Tag Archives: Philosophy

What about Slavoj Žižek?

“The dialectics of history were such that the theoretical victory of Marxism compelled its enemies to disguise themselves as Marxists.” – V. I. Lenin, The Historical Destiny of the Doctrine of Karl Marx

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CPGB-ML: Study of Mao Zedong’s “On Contradiction”

20060310165606611The following is from the website of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist):

Theory: Mao’s ‘On contradiction’
A masterly exposition of how to use dialectics to change the world by the leader of the Chinese revolution.

Mao wrote the article ‘On contradiction’ in 1937 to explain the dialectical method of analysis. He did this to counter the development of dogmatic approaches to study and practice that had developed within the Chinese Communist Party.

He also sought to explain international events, particularly the struggle between Marxist-Leninist leadership and the right and, later, left opportunism within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

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Badiou: On Different Streams Within French Maoism

chinoise-2This interview was posted priviously at the Kasama Project blog. There is quite a lot in Alain Badiou’s “post-Maoist” philosophy in general as well as in this interview in particular with which I disagree, but nonetheless this article is interesting so far as the French Maoist movement shared some similarities (and many differences) with the U.S. New Communist Movement:

An Interview with Alain Badiou, conducted by Eric Hazan

Eric Hazan: One of the most striking aspects of Sarkozy’s rise to power was the support he attracted from Left renegades—from turncoats such as André Glucksmann. As someone who still wears his coat very much the same way round, how would you explain this strange phenomenon?

Alain Badiou: I think you have to put this in perspective, or rather look at it more closely. First of all, it would be better to ask: why so many Maoists from the Gauche Prolétarienne? [GP was one of the main Maoist groups, whose name meant Proletarian Left in French] Because it is among them that you find those who ‘went wrong’ in this way. Secondly, as far as I am aware, only a few rank-and-file activists in the GP made this about-turn. So, to give your question a slightly more technical character, I would say: why did so many people in the GP leadership take such a bad turn?

There were other Maoist organizations—for example the UCFML, which I was involved in establishing, along with Sylvain Lazarus, Natacha Michel and others, in 1970. [1] In fact, Lazarus and Michel came from the GP, in the wake of a split of sorts, whereas my own background was completely different: I came from the PSU, the social democrats. I’m not aware of a single leader or activist in our organization who took a wrong turn, in the sense we are speaking of here. People from other organizations, such as the GOP and VLR, often went back to the PCF, and there was a sprinkling of other groups, in particular the PCMLF, whose idea was more to rebuild the good old Communist Party, which was already in pretty poor shape. [2] On the whole, these people are still somewhere or other ‘on the left’ today.

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Stalin and the Defence of Science

k8283The following is from Lalkar:

Ethan Pollock wrote Stalin and the Soviet Science Wars in 2006.  This review of the book shows how the Soviet archives provided evidence of the widespread debates and knowledge concerning science which took place throughout the Soviet Union during the period under consideration, namely 1945 to 1953, to which even this bourgeois academic had to attest.

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The continuing plunder of Soviet archives by Western academia is having some unexpected, and for imperialism unwelcome, consequences.  The lavish grants and bursaries made available to send scholars out to Moscow to dig up anti-communist dirt are, in some cases, having quite the reverse effect to that intended, facilitating the rediscovery of documents that add fresh life and colour to what is already known of the great Soviet achievements in every sphere of social development.

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Reading Notes 2: Mao Zedong’s “On Contradiction”

This is the second part of my reading notes on Mao Zedong’s book, Five Essays on Philosophy, dealing with On Contradiction. The first part dealt with Mao’s On Practice.

Notes on Mao Zedong’s “On Contradiction”

Mao Zedong wrote his major essay on dialectical materialism, On Contradiction, to challenge dogmatist and subjectivist thinking inside the Chinese Communist Party. It is a companion piece to On Practice, his essay on Marxist epistemology or theory of knowledge. Its purpose is to explain the analytic tools provided by Marxism-Leninism that should be used to look at problems scientifically, looking at their inner workings and the internal contradictions that drive them so as to come to the best and most progressive resolution possible under the given circumstances and conditions. These notes will attempt to draw out the main points from this work in a concise way and draw connection to our practice as revolutionary Marxist-Leninists in the United States. All underlining in quotes from the texts is my emphasis.

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Reading Notes 1: Mao Zedong’s “On Practice“

This is the first of a series of reading notes. I intend to begin by working my way through Mao’s book, Five Essays on Philosophy. Some of this will expand upon material I’ve touched on in my article, Some Points on Stalin (and Mao). This post will include my reading notes for On Practice. The rest will be forthcoming as time goes on. I’m doing this for two reasons: (1.) To help popularize and aid in the study of Marxism-Leninism in general and in the thought of Mao Zedong in particular, and (2.) to help sharpen my own thinking and raise my own theoretical level and understanding. I should add, finally, that in this and all of the other reading notes, this reflects a work in progress in my own study, and therefore, comments and Marxist criticism is encouraged.

Five Essays on Philosophy

  1. On Practice
  2. On Contradiction
  3. On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People
  4. Speech at the Chinese Communist Party’s National Conference on Propaganda Work
  5. Where do Correct Ideas Come From?

Reading Notes on Mao Zedong’s “On Practice“

Members of the Black Panther Party studying Mao's Little Red Book

Members of the Black Panther Party studying Mao's Little Red Book

On Practice is Mao Zedong’s main text on Marxist epistemology, that is, on the Marxist theory of knowledge. In it he examines from a Marxist point of view the problem of how people learn, how their consciousness develops, and how correct theory is developed through practice. It was written along with On Contradiction to challenge dogmatism and subjectivism in the Chinese Communist Party and to help encourage a scientific outlook. We should look at it and study it as revolutionaries struggling to advance mass movements and popular struggles toward revolution, and with the understanding that to do this we must raise the level of consciousness and understand of the masses as we fight along side them. Continue reading

Mao Zedong’s Five Essays on Philosophy: Reading Notes

5essaysThis is a collection of a series of reading notes as I work my way through Mao’s book, Five Essays on Philosophy. Some of this will expand upon material I’ve touched on in my article, Some Points on Stalin (and Mao). As I work through the book, I’ll add to this as time goes on. I’m doing this for two reasons: (1.) To help popularize and aid in the study of Marxism-Leninism in general and in the thought of Mao Zedong in particular, and (2.) to help sharpen my own thinking and raise my own theoretical level and understanding. I should add, finally, that in this and all of the other reading notes, this reflects a work in progress in my own study, and therefore, comments and Marxist criticism on the notes are encouraged.

Five Essays on Philosophy

  1. On Practice (my notes)
  2. On Contradiction (my notes)
  3. On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People (my notes forthcoming)
  4. Speech at the Chinese Communist Party’s National Conference on Propaganda Work (my notes forthcoming)
  5. Where do Correct Ideas Come From? (my notes forthcoming)

The Maoism of Alain Badiou

An Essential Philosophical Thesis: “It Is Right to Rebel against the Reactionaries”


by Alain Badiou

Translated by Alberto Toscano

We are familiar with Mao Zedong’s formula: “Marxism comprises many principles, but in the final analysis they can all be brought back to a single sentence: it is right to rebel against the reactionaries.” This phrase, which appears so simple, is at the same time rather mysterious: how is it conceivable that Marx’s enormous theoretical enterprise, with its ceaselessly and scrupulously reworked and recast analyses, can be concentrated in a single maxim: “It is right to rebel against the reactionaries”? And what is this maxim? Are we dealing with an observation, summarizing the Marxist analysis of objective contradictions, the ineluctable confrontation of revolution and counterrevolution? Is it a directive oriented toward the subjective mobilization of revolutionary forces? Is Marxist truth the following: one rebels, one is right?1 Or is it rather: one must rebel? The two, perhaps, and even more the spiraling movement from the one to the other, real rebellion (objective force) being enriched and returning on itself in the consciousness of its rightness or reason (subjective force).

A. Practice, Theory, Knowledge

We are already handed something essential here: every Marxist statement is—in a single, dividing movement—observation and directive. As a concentrate of real practice, it equals its movement in order to return to it. Since all that is draws its being only from its becoming, equally, theory as knowledge of what is has being only by moving toward that of which it is the theory. Every knowledge is orientation, every description is prescription.

The sentence, “it is right to rebel against the reactionaries,” bears witness to this more than any other. In it we find expressed the fact that Marxism, prior to being the full-fledged science of social formation, is the distillate of what rebellion demands: that one consider it right, that reason be rendered to it. Marxism is both a taking sides and the systematization of a partisan experience. The existence of a science of social formations bears no interest for the masses unless it reflects and concentrates their real revolutionary movement. Marxism must be conceived as the accumulated wisdom of popular revolutions, the reason they engender, the fixation and detailing of their target. Mao Zedong’s sentence clearly situates rebellion as the originary place of correct ideas, and reactionaries as those whose destruction is legitimated by theory. Mao’s sentence situates Marxist truth within the unity of theory and practice. Marxist truth is that from which rebellion draws its rightness, its reason, to demolish the enemy. It repudiates any equality in the face of truth. In a single movement, which is knowledge in its specific division into description and directive, it judges, pronounces the sentence, and immerses itself in its execution. Rebels possess knowledge, according to their aforementioned essential movement, their power and their duty: to annihilate the reactionaries. Marx’s Capital does not say anything different: the proletarians are right to violently overthrow the capitalists. Marxist truth is not a conciliatory truth. It is, in and of itself, dictatorship and, if need be, terror.

Mao Zedong’s sentence reminds us that, for a Marxist, the link from theory to practice (from reason to rebellion) is an internal condition of theory itself, because truth is a real process, it is rebellion against the reactionaries. There is hardly a truer and more profound statement in Hegel than the following: “The absolute Idea has turned out to be the identity of the theoretical Idea and the practical Idea. Each of these by itself is still one-sided” (Hegel, Science of Logic). For Hegel, absolute truth is the contradictory unity of theory and practice. It is the uninterrupted and divided process of being and the act. Lenin salutes this enthusiastically: “The unity of the theoretical idea (of knowledge) and of practice—this NB—and this unity precisely in the theory of knowledge, for the resulting sum is the “absolute idea” (Lenin, Philosophical Notebooks). Let us read this sentence very carefully, since, remarkably, it divides the word “knowledge” into two. That is a crucial point, on which we shall often return: knowledge, as theory, is (dialectically) opposed to practice. Theory and practice form a unity, that is to say, for the dialectic, a unity of opposites. But this knowledge (theory/)practice contradiction is in turn the very object of the theory of knowledge. In other words, the inner nature of the process of knowledge is constituted by the theory/practice contradiction. Or again, practice, which as such is dialectically opposed to knowledge (to theory), is nevertheless an integral part of knowledge qua process.

In all Marxist texts we encounter this scission, this double occurrence of the word “knowledge,” designating either theory in its dialectical correlation to practice or the overall process of this dialectic, that is, the contradictory movement of these two terms, theory and practice. Consider Mao, “Where Do Correct Ideas Come From?”: “Often, correct knowledge can be arrived at only after many repetitions of the process . . . leading from practice to knowledge and then back to practice. Such is the Marxist theory of knowledge, the dialectical materialist theory of knowledge” (Mao Zedong, Five Philosophical Essays). The movement of knowledge is the practice-knowledge-practice trajectory. Here “knowledge” designates one of the terms in the process but equally the process taken as a whole, a process that in turn includes two occurrences of practice, initial and final. To stabilize our vocabulary,2 and remain within the tradition, we will call “theory” the term in the theory/practice contradiction whose overall movement will be the process of “knowledge.” We will say: Knowledge is the dialectical process practice/theory.

On this basis we may expose the reactionary illusion entertained by those who imagine they can circumvent the strategic thesis of the primacy of practice. It is clear that whoever is not within the real revolutionary movement, whoever is not practically internal to the rebellion against the reactionaries, knows nothing, even if he theorizes.

Mao Zedong did indeed affirm that in the theory/practice contradiction—that is, in a phase of the real process—theory could temporarily play the main role: “The creation and advocacy of revolutionary theory plays the principal and decisive role in those times of which Lenin said, ‘Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement’” (Mao, On Contradiction). Does this mean that, at that moment, theory amounts to an intrinsic revolutionary possibility, that pure “Marxist theoreticians” can and must emerge? Absolutely not. It means that, in the theory/practice contradiction that constitutes the process of knowledge, theory is the principal aspect of the contradiction; that the systematization of practical revolutionary experiences is what allows one to advance; that it is useless to continue quantitatively to accumulate these experiences, to repeat them, because what is on the agenda is the qualitative leap, the rational synthesis immediately followed by its application, that is, its verification. But without these experiences, without organized practice (because organization alone allows the centralization of experiences), there is no systematization, no knowledge at all. Without a generalized application there is no testing ground, no verification, no truth. In that case “theory” can only give birth to idealist absurdities.

We thus come back to our starting point: practice is internal to the rational movement of truth. In its opposition to theory, it is part of knowledge. It is this intuition that accounts for Lenin’s enthusiastic reception of the Hegelian conception of the absolute Idea, to the point that he makes Marx into the mere continuation of Hegel. (“Marx, consequently, clearly sides with Hegel in introducing the criterion of practice into the theory of knowledge,” Lenin, Philosophical Notebooks.) Mao Zedong’s sentence lends its precision to Lenin’s enthusiasm. It is the general historical content of Hegel’s dialectical statement. It is not just any practice that internally anchors theory, it is the rebellion against the reactionaries. Theory, in turn, does not externally legislate on practice, on rebellion: it incorporates itself in the rebellion by the mediating release of its reason. In this sense, it is true that the sentence says it all, an all that summarizes Marxism’s class position, its concrete revolutionary significance. An all outside which stands anyone who tries to consider Marxism not from the standpoint of rebellion but from that of the break; not from the standpoint of history but from that of the system; not from the standpoint of the primacy of practice but from that of the primacy of theory; not as the concentrated form of the wisdom of the working people but as its a priori condition.

B. The Three Senses of the Word “Reason”

If this sentence says it all, it nevertheless does so according to the dialectic, that is, according to a simplicity that divides itself. What concentrates and sustains this division, while apparently cloaking it, is the word “reason” or “rightness”: one is right, the rebellion is right, a new reason stands up against the reactionaries. The fact is that, through the word “reason,” the sentence says three things, and it is the articulation of the three that makes the whole.

1. It is right to rebel against the reactionaries does not mean in the first place “one must rebel against the reactionaries” but rather “one rebels against the reactionaries”—it is a fact, and this fact is reason. The sentence says: primacy of practice. Rebellion does not wait for its reason, rebellion is what is always already there, for any possible reason whatever. Marxism simply says: rebellion is reason, rebellion is subject. Marxism is the recapitulation of the wisdom of rebellion. Why write Capital, hundreds of pages of scruples and minutiae, of laborious intelligence, volumes of dialectic often at the edges of intelligibility? Because only this measures up to the profound wisdom of rebellion.

The historical density and obstinacy of rebellion precede Marxism, accumulating the conditions and necessity of its appearance, because they instill the conviction that, beyond the particular causes that provoke the proletarian uprising, there exists a profound reason, which cannot be uprooted. Marx’s Capital is the systematization, in terms of general reason, of what is given in the historical summation of causes. The bourgeoisie, which cognizes and recognizes class struggle, is happy to admit and investigate the particular causes of a rebellion, if only in order to forestall its return. But it ignores the reason, which when all is said and done the proletarians hold onto—a reason that no absorption of causes and circumstances would ever satisfy. Marx’s enterprise amounts to reflecting what is given, not so much in the particularity of battles but in the persistence and development of the class energy invested in them. The thinking of causes does not suffice here.3 The reason for this persistence must be accounted for in depth. The essence of the proletarian position does not reside in the episodes of class struggle but in the historical project that subtends them, a project whose form of practical existence is given by the implacable duration and successive stages of proletarian obstinacy. That is where reason lies. Only its clarification and exposition—simultaneously in the guise of reflections and directives—do justice to the movement, which rebellion brings to light, of the class being of phenomena.

Today only the Maoist enterprise integrally develops what proletarians do and allow us to know through the unconditional and permanent character of their rebellion. Only thus can we say: yes, contradiction is antagonistic, yes, the workers’ rebellion, which is the fire at the heart of this contradiction, is the very reason of history. “It is right to rebel against the reactionaries” means above all: the obstinate proletarians are right, they have all the reasons on their side, and much more besides.

2. “It is right to rebel against the reactionaries” also means: the rebellion will be right, it will have reason on its side. At the tribunal of history, the reactionaries will have to provide reasons, to account for all their misdeeds of exploitation and oppression. The obstinacy of proletarian rebellion is certainly—and this is the first meaning of the word “reason,” or “rightness”—the objective, irreducible character of the contradiction that pits the workers against the bourgeois, but it is also the practical certainty of the final victory; it is the spontaneous, ceaselessly renewed critique of worker defeatism. That the state of affairs is unacceptable and divided—this is the first reason for the rebellion against the reactionaries. That it is transitory and doomed is the second. It is reason, no longer from the standpoint of the motivation or of the moment, but from the standpoint of the future. It is reason in the sense of victory, beyond reason in the sense of legitimacy. Rebellion is wisdom because it is just, because it is founded in reason, but also because it is rebellion that legislates about the future. Marxism repudiates any conception of reason solely based on justification. The proletariat does not simply have true reasons to rebel, it has victorious reasons. “Reason” is here at the crossroads of revolutionary legitimacy and revolutionary optimism.

Rebellion is allergic to Kant’s moral maxim: “You must, therefore you can.” Besides, Kant concluded that an act thus regulated in terms of pure duty had doubtless never taken place. Morality is a defeated prescription. But the workers’ rebellion has indeed taken place, and it finds in Marxism its place of victorious prescription. Marxist reason is not an ought, a duty to be, it is the affirmation of being itself, the unlimited power of what stands up, opposes, contradicts. It is the objective victory of popular refusal. Materialistically, workers’ reason says: “You can, therefore you must.”

3. But “reason” means yet another thing, and this thing is the split fusion of the first two senses. This time, “it is right to rebel against the reactionaries” means: rebellion can be strengthened by the consciousness of its own reason. The statement itself “it is right to rebel against the reactionaries” is both the development of kernels of knowledge internal to the rebellion itself and the return into rebellion of this development. Rebellion—which is right, which has reason—finds in Marxism the means of developing this reason, of assuring its victorious reason. That which allows the legitimacy of rebellion (the first sense of the word “reason”) to become articulated with its victory (the second sense of the word “reason”) is a new type of fusion between rebellion as a practice that is always there and the developed form of its reason. The fusion of Marxism and of the real workers’ movement is the third sense of the word reason, that is to say, the dialectical link, both objective and subjective, of its first two senses.

We encounter here once again the dialectical status of Marxist statements, all of which are divided according to reflection and according to the directive: grasping, beyond its causes, the reason of class energy. By the same token the theory formulates the rule whereby reason can prevail over the cause, the ensemble over the local, strategy over tactics. Rebellion formulates its reason in practical duration; but the clarified statement of this reason breaks with the still-repetitive rule that commands this duration. Rebellion arms itself with its own reason, instead of simply deploying it. It concentrates its rational quality: it organizes its reason and sets out the instruments of its victory.

Knowing that one is right to rebel against the reactionaries, by delivering the (theoretical) reason of this (practical) reason, allows one to make the subjective (organization, the project) equal to the objective (class struggle, rebellion). “Reason,” which initially voiced revolutionary legitimacy and optimism, now speaks of the consciousness and mastery of history.

C. Reason as Contradiction

“It is right to rebel against the reactionaries” is indeed a sentence that says everything about historical movement, because it voices its energy, its sense, and its instrument. Its energy is class struggle, the objective rationality internal to rebellion. Its sense is the ineluctable collapse of the world of exploitation and oppression—that is, communist reason. The instrument is the possible direction of the relation, within history, between energy and sense, between class struggle (which is always and everywhere the motor of history) and the communist project (which is always and everywhere the value promoted by the rebellion of the oppressed). The instrument is reason become subject, it is the party.

“It is right to rebel against the reactionaries” voices the whole, because it speaks of class struggle and the primacy of practice, communism and the withering away of the state, the party and the dictatorship of the proletariat. The sentence voices integral reason, which is to say divided reason, according to the subjective and the objective, reality and project, the endpoint and the stages. And we can see how this integral reason is contradiction: it is impossible to be right, to have reason alone and for oneself. One is right, one has reason, against the reactionaries. One is always right against the reactionaries, the “against the reactionaries” is an internal condition of the true. That is also why Mao Zedong’s sentence summarizes Marxism; it says: every reason contradicts. “True ideas emerge in the struggle against false ideas,” reason is forged in the rebellion against unreason, against what the Chinese invariably call “reactionary absurdities.”

Every truth affirms itself in the destruction of nonsense. Every truth is thus essentially destruction. Everything that simply conserves is simply false. The field of Marxist knowledge is always a field of ruins.

Mao Zedong’s sentence tells us the whole dialectic: the class essence of reason as rebellion lies in the struggle to the death of opposites. Truth only exists in a process of scission.

The theory of contradictions is wholly implicated in the historical wisdom of rebels. That is why the dialectic has always existed, just like rebellions. The dialectic philosophically concentrates the conception of the world of the exploited who stand up against the existing world and will its radical change. That is why it is an eternal philosophical tendency, which unremittingly opposes itself to conservative metaphysical oppression: “Throughout the history of human knowledge, there have been two conceptions concerning the law of development of the universe: the metaphysical conception and the dialectical conception, which form two opposing world outlooks” (Mao Zedong, On Contradiction).

It is always a question of continuing the dialectic, of continuing it against metaphysics, which means: to give reason to the rebels, to say that they are right. Today, to give reason to the true Marxism against the false. To the Maoists, against the revisionists.

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Alain Badiou, a professor emeritus of philosophy at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, works with Organisation Politique, a postparty organization. He is the author of several successful novels and plays as well as more than a dozen philosophical works.

Alberto Toscano is a member of the sociology faculty at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He is the editor, with Ray Brassier, of Alain Badiou’s Theoretical Writings (2004).

Endnotes

This is a translation of chapter 1 of Alain Badiou’s Théorie de la contradiction (Paris: Maspero, 1975).

1. On se révolte, on a raison. Throughout this chapter, Badiou plays with the resonance between being right, avoir raison, or considering right, donner raison, and the concept of reason, raison, recast in a partisan Marxist/Maoist guise.—Trans.

2. Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is not a formalism. In it words are caught up in the movement of destruction/construction, which is the movement of real knowledge. If the target is attained, the signs matter little. Whence the fact that words can move around: only their power counts. Yet again, force prevails over the respect of places.

3. Lenin strongly underlines the insufficiency of the category of causality when he argues that Hegel, rather than Kant, is right not to give it any pride of place: “When one reads Hegel on causality, it appears strange at first glance that he dwells so relatively lightly on this theme, beloved of the Kantians. Why? Because, indeed, for him causality is only one of the determinations of universal connection.” Lenin, Philosophical Notebooks.

Find this and other articles at: http://positions.dukejournals.org/content/vol13/issue3/

Freedom Road on the Mass Line


“The people, and the people alone, are the motive force in the making of world history.” – Mao Zedong

One of the main things that attracted me to Marxism-Leninism and the thought of Mao Zedong when I was becoming an activist and getting involved in popular struggles, particularly in the antiwar movement, was the revolutionary theory and practice of the mass line.

I was drawn to this method of organizing and leadership because it answers in a practical and straightforward way many questions that people have to deal with if they want to fight for fundamental change in society. When I was first beginning to organize and work is large mass meetings in the anti-war movement I felt the need for a revolutionary theory that could measure up to the test of practice. And the mass line measures up.

I first encountered the mass line in Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong. Later I read other articles by Mao Zedong on the subject, such as Some Questions Concerning Methods of Leadership and his January 30, 1962 talk on democratic centralism. I also studied articles by other communists like Liu Shaoqi’s Concerning the Mass Line of our Party and the short collection of Lenin’s writings, Party Work in the Masses.

That being said, I just wanted to draw people’s attention to this newly released pamphlet by the U.S. Marxist-Leninist group, Freedom Road Socialist Organization on the subject, Some Points on the Mass Line. It is a study of the mass line that was developed by FRSO which explains many of the key points of communist organizing, theory and practice, philosophy and revolution, in a very clear way. If an activist/organizer wants to know what Marxism has to offer in practical terms, in terms of getting stuff done, talk to them about the mass line and show them this pamphlet. It is about how to organize for revolution and change the world.

Well, though it is being published officially by Freedom Road now, in February 2008, it is really sort of a re-release, because as a study it has been floating around for a while now. So at the very beginning of Some Points on the Mass Line it says, “This study was prepared by a leading member of FRSO in the late 1980s. Since then this study has been used extensively inside and outside our organization and it has been reprinted in a number of different political settings. The application of the mass line is basic to how we do our work in trade unions, in the movements of oppressed nationalities, in anti-war and other progressive struggles. It informs our work on building a new communist party.” So the real target audience of Some Points on the Mass Line is clearly Marxist-Leninists, though I think advanced activists and organizers who aren’t necessarily Marxists or communists could get a a lot out of studying it as well. When combined with a strong, Marxist-Leninist class analysis, a clear view of the national question in the U.S., and important texts like the Main Political Report and other documents from FRSO’s 5th Congress (2007) we see that this document on mass line organizing is well contextualized within the rest of what Freedom Road has to offer.

When you get right down to it, Some Points on the Mass Line is an organizing handbook, with 20 points dealing with various aspects of the mass line, and including study questions. Some Points on the Mass Line deals with questions ranging from the philosophical (Marxist theory of knowledge, relationship between theory and practice) to the political (democratic centralism and communist organization), to the very practical (methods of work and methods of leadership). It shows how the mass line allows organizers to deals with questions as seemingly simple as how to respond practically to apathy and cynicism. It discusses the importance of summing up experiences and the struggle for summation. It talks about how to do united front work. It even deals with questions regarding how to build a stable core of activists to mobilize masses of poeple. And, importantly, it links all of these points with deeper questions such as how to raise the level of people’s consciousness.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that there is recommended reading at the end. The point is made that “although the term mass line was coined by the Communist Party of China, the basic method of reliance on, and the mobilization of, the masses of people has been utilized by all successful revolutionary parties.” So along with the well known texts of Mao Zedong and Chinese communism, others like Lenin’s On Confounding Politics with Pedagogics and Stalin’s Armed Insurrection and our Tactics are listed there as well for people to do more research into the classics of Marxism-Leninism.

It is in the mass line that the dialectical relationship between theory and practice is the most clear. As a revolutionary method, the mass line has be proven by successful revolutionary movements all over the world. This pamphlet from Freedom Road shows, point by point, just how that works. I would highly suggest that people read it and apply it.

“The masses are the real heroes, while we ourselves are often childish and ignorant, and without this understanding, it is impossible to acquire even the most rudimentary knowledge.” – Mao Zedong

Socialism or Barbarism? Review of "Another View of Stalin"

This book by Ludo Martens of the Worker’s Party of Belgium, Another View of Stalin (EPO, Antwerp: 1994.), is pretty incredible. For us, working in the United States where anticommunism is so institutionalized, it is an important book. It is a weapon for communists to use in the ideological front.

For a long time I didn’t understand Comrade Stalin. I came from a petit-bourgeois intellectual Marxism, distanced from practice and tied in rather closely to to the humanist/individualist ideologies of the U.S. I read Adorno, Jameson, and Critical Theory. As a young man, a teenager just coming to Marxism, I remember people would say, “but Socialism didn’t work,” and I would reply, with a fine mixture of youthful optimism and naivete, “but it was never really tried!” Any scientific socialist should be able to see such a statement for the utopianism that it is. Later my utopianism became more nuanced and sophisticated as I studied philosophy formally. It was only when I came to Mao Zedong’s writings and the experience of the Chinese Revolution that I could begin to reappraise Stalin, the USSR, and the world communist movement as a whole. Whatever his errors may have been, Mao was a breath of fresh air, so clear and simple, yet sharp as a razor – so practical and useful! And yet Mao was a “Stalinist.” So I had to ask, was Stalin a deviation from “true” Marxism and even from Leninism (and where did that leave Mao?), or was Stalin a genuine Marxist-Leninist? What did this say about socialism, what it is and what it isn’t? What did this say about what socialism could be?

Through a more thorough study of Marxism and of history, I came to see that Stalin was a great Marxist-Leninist and that the USSR, at least until the Krushchev years, provided a shining example of what Marxism was when applied. But why did it “fail” and where did that leave us? It was only much later that I came to understand the particulars of the sequence of events and what Mao Zedong calls the “two line struggle,” whereby in the transitional society that socialism is (not what Marx calls a “mode of production” but something between the capitalist and communist modes) contradictions are intensified and class struggle along with it. Nothing is assured just because the proletariat has seized state power.

Fast forward a bit. I attended a recent conference where a lot of Trotskyite groups tabled. On the way to conference, in the van that we had rented for our mobilization, I was talking about Soviet history, about Stalin and his contributions to building socialism, and about the slow death of the Soviet system as the sickness of revisionism tore the USSR apart from Krushchov to through Gorbachav, to Yeltsin and the liquidation of the CPSU and the rise of the oligarchs. Having read Another View of Stalin, it was an easy thing to address such questions as, “What about Lenin’s Will?”, “What about the Purges and Show Trials?”, “What about the Gulag? And the millions killed?” “The lack of democracy?” “The forced collectivization?” “What about Trotsky?” Martens goes into all of this. He addresses the usual criticisms of Stalin, going after their sources, showing how they don’t hold up to any scientific analysis of history, situating them in their actual historical conditions, from which they are so easily and with such cleaverness removed. He exposes the agendas of Stalin’s critics in the most thorough way. But people didn’t understand why all these Trots were around. They were very confusing, and after all, they said all the same things about Stalin that their highschool teachers had been saying all along!

And this brings us to the question of revisionism. Some don’t see why this question of Stalin is so important for Marxist-Leninists today. Stalin is dead, after all, and this isn’t Russia. In the last instance, it comes down to the very essense of Marxism, to historical materialism, to the scientific analysis of social, political and economic change. Had socialism “ever been tried” and did it work? If our answer is yes, then we must come up with a balance sheet of its successes and failures, we must go into the particulars, the local and geopolitical contradictions, the historical milieu. If no, we must discern how socialism in the USSR, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia or China differed from “true” socialism, and how is this “true” socialism to ever be achived given where are and what we know about class society, imperialism, uneven development and so on? The question of Stalin is central to this – the question of the architect of the first Socialist society and leader of the international communist movement for so many crucial decades. To defend Stalin one must have a firm grasp of history. To be a Trotskyite one must only say, “but think of what it would have been like if…” The concern is not with what happened. Trotskyite “theory” doesn’t hold water. And we know, as Mao Zedong has said, the basis of Marxist epistemology, that is the basis of all scientific knowledge, is practice.

A lot of people I know who have read this book on Stalin by Comrade Martens have been stunned by the degree of the lies perpetuated to attack the architect of socialism. It is a common thread that links all of communisms enemies: Imperialists, Fascists, Trotskyites, Revisionists, etc. Comrades like it because it is a weapon. Anti-capitalist fellow-travellers like it because it reaffirms what they have always suspected – that the greatest enemies of capitalism and imperialism are the ones who are most villified by the petit-bourgeois lackeys of international monopoly capital. Today as the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) stands on the verge of founding the world’s next socialist state, we see it happening again with the new “biography” of Mao Zedong, which is nothing but propaganda dressed in the trappings of history.

One need not limit oneself to Krushchov’s secret speech to the XXth Congress to find this problem. One can look in philosophy as well. The “Marxist” Humanists, celebrants of the velvet (counter-)revolution like Dunayevskaya (secretary of Trotsky and founder of News & Letters), Kolakowski (“Marxist” revisionist author of the most anti-Marxist philosophical text yet written, the three volume Main Currents of Marxism), and even Alain Badiou (“post-Maoist” methematician and philosopher who calls both the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the Solidarity movement in Poland “obscure events” to study and upon which to refound the leftist project). And we can see where that leads. The humanists are liberals, as Louis Althusser has pointed out in his cleaver syllogism: “All humanists are liberals; Eric Fromm [famed "Marxist Humanist"] is a humanist; Fromm is a liberal.” Kolakowski sings the praises of revisionism to no end, and Badiou’s OP is at best infantile leftist and worst completely reformist. Where does this revisionism lead? In the Soviet Union and the Warsaw States it led to capitalist restoration in its most barbaric form. Humanism restored gangster-liberalism in the Soviet Bloc. It is easy when you start talking about “universal human rights” to forget that this means bourgeois right, and that in the end, “universal human rights”, “Socialism with a human face” and what have you, is a defeat for the working class.

It is odd that when anyone wants to talk about the “true essense” of Marxism, or a “return to Lenin” it is that old renegade Kautsky, the social-democrat who wanted a reformed capitalism, that they dredge up in order to liquidate the CP and liberalize the state and economy. And nobody embodies Kautskyism like Tony Blaire’s Labour Party as they unite with U.S. imperialism to rob the Middle East of all of its resources. Mao Zedong puts it very simply: never forget class struggle.

I am an activist, a militant involved in the daily struggles of the working and oppressed people. I argue for socialism, for Marxism-Leninism. To do this, this book by Comrade Martens is useful, especially with students and young people. So many people see these problems of exploitation, poverty, national oppression, sexism, and so on. They see that they are systemic, but so often it stops there. Because the radical alternative is “Stalinism” so many people settle for an ineffective social-democracy, a vain attempt to reform capitalism, or a cynical pessimism. But this book does well to demonstrate that, situated within its historical context, Communism is a good thing. And, as Lenin would have it, the dictatorship of the proletariat is “a million times more democratic” than anything else we have ever seen.

Stalin, architect of socialism, is a shining example to genuine Marxist-Leninists everywhere.

in unity and struggle,
Comrade Zero

(Another View of Stalin can be purchased from the Stalin Society. For a good discussion on revisionism in the USSR, perhaps one that is a bit more nuanced than Restoration of Capitalism in USSR by Martin Nicolaus that so many Maoists swear by, see Ludo Martens. USSR: The Velvet Counter Revolution. EPO, Brussles: 1991. For more on the role of Stalin, the anti-revisionist movement and a critical evaluation of the role of Mao and the CPC, see also Ludo Martens. “On Certain Aspects of the Struggle Against Revisionism“. PTB, Brussles: March, 1995. [.doc])