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Addendum to "Maoism or Trotskyism?"

Although the 25 page polemic Maoism or Trotskyism? offered in the previous post has generated a lot of positive feedback in emails and the places where it has been posted, like any work of this type it has also produced the occasional critique and counter-argument––some of which were supportive and others of which were predictably dismissive.  Obviously any work that attempts at an ideological struggle between two theoretical terrains will generate this kind of discussion; even had I been longer-winded, refusing to content myself with only summarizing the philosophical situation, and produced an entire book there would still be critiques––perhaps even the same ones!  But this indicates that the piece possesses some sort of vitality; it would be worse if it had been met with utter silence.

Thus, because I think it is important to participate in the debate one's work produces, I've decided to use this post as an addendum of sorts and clarify areas of my critique of trotskyism by responding to certain key critiques and attempted counter-arguments.  In this way I can hopefully illuminate those points of the document that might have been confusing as well as demonstrate that at least some of these attempted counter-arguments were already dealt with, or were besides the point, in the original polemic.

1.  "But Trotskyists are and have been wreckers in the international communist movement."

I've heard this critique from more than one otherwise sympathetic reader who believed that I should have addressed this supposed fact––that Trotsky and trotskyism was/is a significant "wrecking" force in revolutionary movements––and treated it as a key part of my critique.  Well, I did briefly address this claim at the beginning of the polemic in order to indicate that I did not think it was a claim that helped matters and that, rather, it was more of a rhetorical position that produced mud-slinging exchanges instead of engaging in a robust theoretical struggle.  Abusive ad hominem arguments do nothing except encourage one's opponents to make similar arguments and this is why so many ortho-trotskyists, who feel the need to prove that they are the true guardians of marxism, are immediately on the defensive and prepared to argue, against the charge of "wrecking", that everyone else is a "Stalinist" who has "betrayed the authentic revolution."  Hence, these exchanges lead nowhere and provide those of us who do have critiques of Trotskyism without any useful theoretical material.  Rather than fall back into that rhetorical swamp, I wanted to avoid this issue altogether and focus primarily on the theoretical differences which I find more interesting and more significant.

Besides, as I also (but briefly) pointed out in the polemic, it's not as if non-Trotskyist groups haven't been guilty of the same "wrecker" behaviour.  I gave the example of the RCP-USA's behaviour in the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement; the same group is now guilty, according to some, of wreaking havoc on the international communist movement with their Avakianist "New Synthesis".  To this we can add the behaviour of a group like the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) [CPC(M-L)] under Hardial Bains that, during the 1960s and 1970s, would actually encourage its cadre to physically assault other communists and anti-capitalists to such a degree that some people accused them of being agents.

Even the argument that Trotskyism "wrecked" the international communist movement during its hey-day because it split the working-classes, spread confusion, and possibly played into the hands of the imperialists is no longer an argument that is a live option: it speaks to a period that has already passed and I am more concerned with addressing the current historical conjuncture that needs to move beyond this historical wreckage and focus on the theoretical issues that resonate with the here and now.

2.  "Trotsky cannot be confused of misunderstanding the role the peasantry because he led a peasant army against the White Army."

Although this argument is more rhetorical than substantial, and does not at all respond to any of the theoretical points I made about theorizing class in semi-feudal contexts, it does seem to possess an emotional appeal.  Those who make it are clearly convinced that Trotsky's revolutionary leadership of peasants would be rationally connected to a sophisticated understanding of the peasants as a class in Russia even though, logically speaking, the latter does not necessarily follow from the former.  Indeed, there were peasant divisions in the White Army led by reactionary commanders (and Trotsky was keen to remind us of this fact in order to demonstrate the peasantry's inability to be a properly revolutionary class despite the fact that there were entire divisions of workers in the White Army and an entire division of workers in the Kronstadt Rebellion that Trotsky was utterly convinced needed to be suppressed) but we would be hard-pressed to argue that these White Army commanders, simply by ordering peasants into battle, understood the Russian peasants as a class.

Moreover, the fact remains that Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution itself demonstrates a confusion regarding the peasantry and it was this, rather than biographical details, was what I wanted to interrogate.  I think I did an adequate job demonstrating this confusion––how it produced significant contradictions and a failure to explain the necessary phenomena––but if the people making this rhetorical argument are not convinced they are welcome to respond to my arguments rather than rely on emotionally charged anecdotal statements.

3.  "You claim that the Trotskyist theory would be correct if the world was indeed, as Trotsky seemed to claim, a single mode of production of combined and uneven development."

This critique comes from another sympathetic source but, unless my writing was far less clear that I assumed it was, is generally off-base because I made no such claim.  What I did claim was that presupposing the world was a single mode of production was a foundational theoretical problem with Trotskyism that, since it leads to the confused assumption that only a global revolution can properly be alled "socialist", was worth examining in significant detail.  Although I did argue, as people trained in philosophy are wont to argue, that Trotskyism could possibly be correct (just as the sasquatch could possibly exist), I never made this specific argument about the theory of combined and uneven production.  This is because the world is not a single mode of production and imperialism's existence is contingent, as I implied, on the fact that it is not.  Hence, in this context, I would have seen no reason to claim that Trotskyism's theory of revolution would be correct if the presuppositions behind "combined and uneven development" were correct because, obviously, I think that the latter is just patently wrong.

4.  "This is a sophomoric Stalinist critique!"

Simply making such a rhetorical statement does not make it correct.  In fact, it seems rather "sophomoric" to allow such a statement to be your argument against a 25 page polemic that has provided a rather detailed account of the significant differences between Maoism and Trotskyism.  It is especially absurd since the second section of the polemic was precisely about negating the charge of "Stalinism" and so, unless you were to do the hard work of demonstrating how I failed to negate the charge, to reiterate the accusation is in bad faith.  For I argued that "Stalinism", which is primarily a theory concocted by Trotskyists, is also a marxist dead-end and spent some time trying to argue why this was the case.  So was my argument against Stalinism also sophomoric, was I as thoughtless and dismissive as you when I spent pages addressing the very terminology you have employed as an argument against my position?  Clearly, no matter how sophisticated a piece of writing is, one always has to deal with uncritical dismissals that, by assuming their ideological line is sophisticated enough to lean on and without having to critically represent, are not interested in thinking through an argument that offends their unquestioned sensibilities.

5.  "The emancipation of the working-class can only come from the working-class itself."

Here is an argument that was made by an ortho-Trotskyist who, apparently caught in the first section of the polemic's examination of "permanent revolution", was angry that I was speaking of the peasantry as a possibly revolutionary class and felt the need to quote a line from the programme of the First International that Marx reiterated in Critique of the Gotha Programme in order to critique, well, the Gotha Programme.  This argument is significant not only because it showed no critical intention to my polemic as a whole but because it also proved two of my points: a) Trotsky and Trotskyism, though attempting to escape orthodoxy, still default on a dogmatic understanding of historical materialism; b) Trotsky and Trotskyists really do presume that the entire world is a single mode of production.

First of all, the reliance on this statement of Marx's demonstrates a refusal to recognize the particular historical context in which this line (that you will be hard-pressed to find in Capital, the Manifesto, or anywhere else) is wrenched out of its social-historical framework and presented as a platonically universal axiom.  The First International was pre-eminently concerned with building revolutionary parties in Europe and could only be concerned with building revolutionary politics in Europe because its prime ideologues (Marx and Engels) knew very little about the social dynamics of the rest of the world––one only needs to look at Marx's early writings on India to realize how he had (and could not, at that time) little understanding of societies that were the victims of imperialism.  Indeed, it is not until Marx completed the first volume of Capital that he began to examine (and not necessarily very well, again because of his limitations) world history and attempt to figure out what it would mean to make revolution in places that were the victims of world capitalism but were not capitalist modes of production.  (Kevin B. Anderson tries to discuss this in his examination of Marx's unpublished notebooks and recently I participated in a conference where Michael Kraetke, a significant editor of the Collected Works of Marx and Engels, discussed Marx's unpublished notebooks on world history.)

Thus, only the working-class can emancipate the working-class under capitalism as a mode of production, but how do we make sense of class in the framework of global imperialism where nations can be under capitalist domination, and thus be capitalist social formations, but are not and cannot be because of the development of underdevelopment, be capitalist modes of production? Obviously, and this is the second point, the answer is to simply assume, as Trotsky did, that the world is a single mode of production and therefore the working-class that primarily exists in capitalist modes of production (the imperialist centres) will do the emancipating.  This position ignores the fact that: i) revolutions generally aren't happening or taking a leading role at the centres of capitalism; ii) the working-class at the centres of capitalism, as properly "working-class" as it might be, is not necessarily at the point of global production, is not necessarily invested in making revolution, and might even be what Lenin called, following Engels, a labour aristocracy.  This was the problem I was addressing when I discussed Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution that, on the one hand, wanted to break from marxist orthodoxy by arguing, along with Lenin, that revolution tends to erupt at the global peripheries and we shouldn't wait for "bourgeois revolutions" but that, on the other hand, is sucked back into the same orthodoxy by attempting to side-step the problem and theorizing that there doesn't have to be a bourgeois revolution in these places because they are part of the same mode of production as Europe where the bourgeois revolution already happened––where there resided the proper working-class that could emancipate itself and thus everyone else who was encouraged to wait.

Moreover, as I concluded in the section of permanent revolution, the whole Trotskyist complaint about New Democracy and peasantry is actually a red herring when it comes to engaging with Maoism.  In the following sections of the polemic I emphasized that properly theorizing the revolutionary role of the peasantry is only important in social contexts where the peasantry are a predominant class and thus Maoism is not concerned with making this its main focus.  I even referenced the party programme of the organization I support, the PCR-RCP, as an example of a Maoist theorization of a social context that is a fully developed capitalist mode of production––and this programme indeed holds that, in a capitalist mode of production, the emancipation of the working-class can only be brought about by the working-class itself.  The question it asks, though, is just what is the working-class––what is the "hard core of the proletariat"––in this social context: unionized workers, migrant workers, the reserve army of labour, racialized workers, feminized workers?  For when we speak of the revolutionary class, those with an advanced consciousness that can be accumulated to form the germ of a vanguard party, we cannot content ourselves simply with platitudes whatever the truth content of these platitudes.  It might give us some marxist satisfaction to tell others that only the working-class can emancipate the whole of society, but if we do not attempt to discover the location of the "hard core of the proletariat" and instead simply assume that unionized factory workers who might be more concerned with the benefits accrued from imperialism than class revolution are the revolutionary subject, we are not doing the hard work of revolutionary organizing but instead are substituting social investigation and organizing with clever sounding epithets.

Particularize Maoism everywhere!

The point here is that I don't care about "the Quotable Marx"; I care about how the scientific method we call marxism can be creatively applied for a revolutionary result in a given particular terrain.  In the end, I was arguing that the choice between Trotskyism and Maoism came down to a choice between a theory of revolution that, because of what I felt was its purist and non historical materialist view of marxist categories, was unable to produce a revolutionary movement anywhere (Trotskyism), or a theory of revolution that had demonstrated its ability to creatively rearticulate universal concepts in particular contexts and thus produce revolutionary movements––but revolutionary movements that, yes, have often been marked by failure (Maoism).  Those who quote Marx out of social and historical context and thus argue for the preservation of a pure marxism––and who believe this preservation is the hallmark of proper communism––will clearly choose the former option and so, rather than waste time trying to counter my polemic by ignoring Marx's method and focusing instead on a theoretical purity that will prove me wrong, you should just accept you've made your choice and that this, due to the unassailable perfection of your quotes, is what counts… Because that, really, is what you're arguing and I've already provided you with that way out of the dilemma.


  1. Great summary. As someone learning about these different schools of thought, I'm still a bit unclear about what you mean by 'holding the revolution in permanence'. Does this simply mean that a revolutionary dictatorship acts as a holding operation until the workers in the advanced centres of capitalism get their act together? I'm having trouble picturing what the revolution in the peripheral country actually entails apart from that. How does the 'permanent' come into it? I would have thought that Mao's conception of revolution qualified as permanent revolution, given that he wanted to keep it going while the capitalist roaders wanted to stop it once the productive forces were developed. Maybe I'm understanding the word in a non-Marxist sense.

    1. Since this is an addendum to the document "Maoism or Trotskyism" (which is available to download as a PDF on the post of the same name or the *Downloads* page), I do not explain the terminology that I already explained in that piece. Rather, this is a response to questions the original piece raised, none of which were "explain Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution in more detail" which seems to be what you're asking. Therefore, instead of reproducing the summary of the Trotskyist concept of permanent revolution here, as well as the Maoist response and why it is different than the Maoist tactic, you should check out that PDF and the section on permanent revolution which goes over it in significant detail.

    2. Well, I had actually read the original article. It wasn't clear to me from that very article what 'holding the revolution in permanence' would look like, only that Trotsky wanted to do it (and perhaps that it would include a state-of-emergency type arrangement, though I had to squint to gather that much). I've seen at least five different summaries of what this theory is supposed to entail, and some of them seem to have nothing much to do with the others. For example, the Socialist Alternative websites critique the USSR and China for not having been 'truly socialist', but the article you wrote seems to say that the Trotskyists themselves would not acknowledge a state run under 'revolution in permanence' as being truly socialist, as this would have to wait for the triumph of the revolution in the imperialist centres.

  2. Ok, here is some claims, not mine but of IMT trots, I want to know how would you respond. I dont agree with them just need a sharper mind of yours:
    1. October revolution was trotskyist revolution, because trotskyism is real leninism. Why? Because Lenin abandoned stagism in favour of permanent revolution in Russia.
    2. MLM doesn't bring anything new to the table. All that MLM stands for, trotsky said it earlier (class strugle in the party etc.)
    3. They claim all that trotsky predicted came true, and that is why those countries fell apart (bureaucracy, socialism in one country), hence, Trotsky was right.
    4. If I'm not wrong, I've read that you said trots blame outside factor as much as stalin. They say they blame bureaucracy, so inside factor, and class struggle but it is embodied in bureaucracy since you can't fight ideas but their embodiment.

    Ok one more of mine, about socialism in one country. For them, individually, only workers state exist, socialism is when all countries are workers state, but there is still exchange, but when there is distribution, then becomes communism. So, what is the different view between those two currents, yours and theirs? Is it that you can build it in one country, but can't finish building it without it being global, or that finished socialism means communism, and socialism "built" even on global scale doesn't make sense. All so confusing, not just semantics as you mentioned once.
    Thanks <3

    1. All of these are answered by the larger piece, so why ask them again? But here's some quick answers:

      1) An ahistorical claim, but one that is typically made by people who really want to feel that their theoretical trajectory rests on firm ground. Trotsky was just a military leader in the revolution: he was not its principle theorist, and in fact Lenin disagreed with him on almost everything. Trotsky was primarily a Menshevik in theory who made the decision to join the Bolsheviks. The stagism thing is a joke, and I responded to it also in the main polemic [not the addendum but the original pamphlet]. As for Lenin agreeing with the theory of permanent revolution, then he would have to abandon his claims about revolution happening at the weakest links which he maintained up until his death.

      2. Saying a few odd phrases here and there that are not a worked out theory is not the same as theorizing cultural revolution. The Trotskyist conception of the party, its very understanding of class, prevents it from having a concept of class struggle within socialism and line struggle within the party. You can just see by the way all Trotskyist parties organize that they don't conceptualize things in an MLM manner.

      3. The possibility of socialism failing is always a possibility and Marx and Engels, and others before Trotsky, always maintained that it was possible that socialism would fail after successes multiple times. The question, though, is whether or not Trotskyism can account for this: it cannot. The reasons it claims socialism failed are not very good explanations due to their vagueness and lack of explanatory depth. Maoism has a better explanation; what's more, this explanation is scientific because it was tested in the Chinese Revolution, which went further than the Russian revolution, and failed precisely because of what Mao's line pin-pointed would be the problem.

      5. No, if you read the original fifty page document I do point out that they blame bureaucracy, but I point out it's a vague explanation and it cannot account for the phenomenon.

      As for your last question, just read the polemic. It goes over the claim about socialism in one country, the chauvinism of the global claim, and the reason why this claim cannot be scientific: it is untestable, rests on an argument from ignorance, and allows them to never "dare to struggle". I think the back link to that post is above and, so far, the Trotskyists I've dealt with online have never answered it succinctly. As for the IMT, they are one of the more asinine Trotskyist groups. One just needs to be an internationalist and look at their line on, say, Palestine to realize that they are colonial apologists.

    2. Yeah, sorry about that, but I did read it quite a few times, but maybe hard read partially, and I also wasnt 100% clear in my question. Your polemic deals in big part with "socialism in one country" vs international revolution,uneven and combined development, peasants. There you smashed it. But my problem is they claim the main part of permanent revolution is in skipping stages, and prophet was the 1st one to do that, and since all other revolutions did it, they were trotskyist ones. Although that claim is very vague, still, when they got Phd and I'm just a worker, they can make me spin around sometimes with straw men and all sorts of things. It is not them I care about, but people that they are cheating with it. They can call upon master discourse "But IIIIII have a Phd, what do you know, peasant!"
      So they are not arguing in depth, but just the fact that phases were skipped, even tho they actually weren't skipped as such (NEP). And ofc, they claim "new democracy" is just name for permanent revolution, so Stalin wouldn't be anrgry lol. That also comes from fact that the sole thing to skip capitalism phase as such, is prophets ultimate deed, since Stalin wanted stages, and even Lenin before, according to them, Trotsky influenced him. So you see where that is going.

      And yeah, IMT, sometimes too simplistic analysis' of some things. But that general discourse of "degenerated" and "deformed" disgusts me, so I don't even follow much. And when it comes to Chinese revolution and their views, dear lord...

      Oh and one last thing, if you could ever elaborate your position on entryism, since that is their ultimate weapon, and whenever a man says a word against it, they curse him: "How dare you separating from the people! If people are in "x party" then you should be also and push them to the left!"

      Sorry for boring you with this, just few of us are surrounded by many of them, so it can be terrible sometimes, since they do really act like religious sect, even tho I don't think bad of them, Sorry again and thanks

    3. Okay, I'll try to deal with this quickly here but comment strings aren't the best place for this…

      1) Permanent Revolution: look again at the original document because it pretty much outlines this doctrine. Sure it claims it isn't stageist but this is also because the theory is connected to the assumption of the world as an entire mode of production. Of course it doesn't make sense for revolutions to go through bourgeois revolutions but then Trotskyism claims to solve this problem simply by saying that revolutionary movements in the third world just have to wait and hold the revolution in permanence, and carry on a revolutionary tradition aiming at socialism, for the first world workers to lead them to world revolution. Trotsky is pretty clear on his position in this area, and this is the point I was trying to get across. So the opposition to socialism in one country is in fact part of this worldwide revolution argument that is the theory of permanent revolution. First of all, the so-called third world doesn't possess a "developed" working class or the productive forces that produces this working class. Secondly, it seems wrong to say they have to all go through bourgeois revolutions separately. Thirdly, if the world is just one big bloody mode of production of combined and uneven development then it would be "stagist" to suggest they do this. Finally, they should agitate, as part of an international communist order, for a world revolution that will be led by the centres. I'm going to guess you see the problem with this, particularly since the proletariat, while developed according to productive forces, is far from qualified to lead world revolutions, that the world is heterogeneous, and that, as Lenin said, revolution happens at the weakest links, not in the labour aristocracy.

      Secondly, the whole thing about skipping or not skipping stages is a red herring. Maoists don't argue about "stages" they simply argue about the ways in which revolution is deployed in a particular context while also taking into account the problems third world countries have to deal with. My whole discussion on the theory of new democracy was intended to show that this had nothing to do with "stages" of a revolution, but that this was an attempt of Trotskyists to hammer what was happening in China into their way of seeing the world.

      Thirdly, considering that most IMT people I've encountered are at the margins of academia (I've got a PhD, I'm pretty plugged into Marxist academia, and I know that the IMT is kind of seen as a joke – not, mind you, that academics like Maoists very much), and in fact betray a rather asinine anti-intellectualism… You can just mock them for their claims about how physicists are idiots for believing in the Big Bang theory and a whole bunch of juvenile nonsense they've put out over the years.

      Finally, I think I've covered the problem of entryism in multiple and other posts on this blog. Easiest answer: who are the people they claim they're representing with their entryism? Statistics pretty clearly show that the poorest people don't vote and aren't in x party. Nor has their practice really done much or mattered very much in this regard, so they don't really have a justification for making their claims. It's a hypothesis without experimental verification.


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