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Message to "Insurgent Notes": please consider dropping "insurgent" from your name

When a magazine calls itself "Insurgent Notes" and proclaims that it is interested in communism, you would think that it would also be interested in the most revolutionary communist insurgencies that have been happening throughout the world since the fall of the Soviet Union.  You know, those revolutionary movements that are in some ways proving that capitalism is not necessarily the end of history and that there still are mass movements that care enough about communism to pursue it with armed struggle?  Yes, you would assume a communist magazine that proudly declares itself "insurgent" would at least know something about the large-scale communist insurgency that has plunged large portions of India into civil war.  And you would especially assume that when this magazine publishes a paper on the theory of maoism––since maoism is the main theory of revolutionary communist insurgencies the world over––this paper would at least demonstrate, due to its apparent interest in insurgency, an adequate and honest understanding of the theory.

some real world insurgency

Not so with Loren Goldner's Notes Towards a Critique of Maoism which is not only insulting to maoists but also insults the intelligence of anyone who has bothered to critically investigate the history and theory of the communism that was influenced by the Chinese Revolution.  And yet Insurgent Notes published this article that mocks the ideology of the only communist insurgencies that currently exist and have existed since the fall of the Soviet Union proving that it only cares about insurgency insofar as to denigrate actually existing revolution.  Indeed, even Insurgent Notes' general readership appears to wallow in the ignorance Goldner's article promotes as evinced by many of the comments, all of which betray the same shallow understanding of the subject matter.

Originally I planned to go through Goldner's article piece-meal and demonstrate its historical and theoretical invalidity but the excellent blog Signalfire already beat me to the punch.  Thankfully, Signalfire's blow-by-blow demonstration of Goldner's distortion of history and shoddy understanding of maoist theory has saved me the time of combing through paragraphs of half-truths and idealist speculation.  One even wonders what this will accomplish, at least as far as Goldner and the audience of Insurgent Notes are concerned: Mao might have said that without investigation there is no right to speak, but since these people don't care about anything Mao said there is no point in doing a thorough interrogation of their shoddy analysis in order to remind them of something they don't want to hear.

What I do want to discuss, however, is not so much Goldner's article but the fact that its understanding of maoism is actually quite common amongst a certain section of marxists at the centres of capitalism who rely on a long history of very bad historical analyses to make judgments about a theoretical tradition they clearly do not, and do not want to, understand.  About a year ago I complained about this same problem, and so it is somewhat amusing that it is again rearing its ignorant head to spout the same misinformed gibberish about maoism that was probably gleaned, if you trace its trajectory of thought back far enough, from either bourgeois/orientalist sources and/or the back pages of the uber-sectarian and simple-minded Workers Vanguard.

First of all, Goldner and his ilk are not speaking about the maoism that is the guiding ideology of contemporary people's wars and the international maoist movement.  That is, the "maoism" he describes in his article has nothing to do with the marxism-leninism-maoism professed by most of us who define as "maoist" and he is guilty of many of the misconceptions I critiqued in a post last July.  There is really nothing in his article, which professes to be notes that will lead to a critique of maoism, that has anything to do with the phenomena he wants to critique.  Rather, he spends most of his time speaking (and not very accurately, mind you) about the "maoism" of the 1960s and 1970s that was really anti-revisionist Marxism-Leninism and mainly defined as "maoism" in order do declare solidarity with "the Chinese path" against Soviet revisionism.

It is a bit like someone drafting notes towards a critique of the General Theory of Relativity but instead spending the entire time complaining about Newton's theories of physics and maybe confusing these theories, here and there, with the theories promoted by Leibniz.  All of this is to say: if you're going to critique something at least demonstrate an understanding of the object of your critique.  When my students write papers arguing against x philosopher/philosophy, their first task is to properly represent the ideas against which they're arguing; if they can't do that then they end up with a very poor mark because it is impossible to come up with a counter-argument if you have the object of thought wrong in the first place.

Beginning with no firm grasp of what he's arguing against (he shows no understanding of the RIM and its key 1993 document, Long Live Marxism-Leninism-Maoism!, which is the quintessential summary of maoism as a new stage of revolutionary theory), Goldner adds innumerable historical inaccuracies and distortions to the pseudo-maoism he has invented.  The Signalfire response linked above points out many of these inaccuracies, and commenters on /r/communism have pointed out others (i.e. such as how he claims that the PCP openly based its practice on the Khmer Rouge even though there is no PCP document which makes this claim, the PCP was an active member of the RIM when the RIM organ, "A World To Win", wrote a long and extremely critical analysis of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, and really no evidence except just his opinion and maybe something written by a right-wing historian he read once), and I would even go further to point out that the claim made in one of his footnotes about how Mao had apparently never read a word of Marx before 1921 is not only a hallmark of orientalist historiographies on China but is just dead wrong––Nick Knight, among others, has written extensively about Mao's grasp of Marx and Marxism and has done a very good job proving that Mao was actually quite well read on Marx and even Marxist debates happening in the Soviet Union before 1921.  Really, the entire article is such a mess that the only "critique" it can lead to is the same old orientalist, badly informed, confused apprehension of maoism that is now so commonplace amongst eurocentric marxists that it is quite banal.

There are a number of very easy things Goldner could have done if he wanted to write an actual critique of maoism.  First of all, he could have read Long Live Marxism-Leninism-Maoism which is pretty easy to find online.  Secondly, he could have examined the parties assembled around the RIM, especially those parties engaged in people's war (and I'm sorry, just mentioning them in passing in an attempt to hammer them into an ideological framework they did not accept does not count).  Thirdly, he could have looked at the party programmes of contemporary maoist organizations, such as the PCR-RCP programme which is very thorough and expresses an ideology that looks nothing like the one he describes.  Finally, he could have consulted innumerable maoist/post-maoist blogs and discussion boards where more than one summary of maoism is available––hell, I have some good summaries here that might have at least provided him with a proper description of the object he wanted to critique.  Even a basic investigation would tell him that maoism-qua-maoism (that is, "maoism" as a new stage of revolutionary science) did not really exist prior to the late 1980s and so his obsession with describing events in the 1960s and 1970s as "maoism" is extremely off-base.  If he properly understood maoism he would hopefully understand that it is impossible to mistake this theory as, in his words, "bourgeois revolutions with red flags" since the key point of marxism-leninism-maoism is that the bourgeoisie does try to return under socialism, that class struggle continues under the dictatorship of the proletariat, and that it is necessary to struggle against the proletarian revolution being transformed into a bourgeois revolution.

I suppose we could make an argument that, despite his erroneous labeling, Goldner is critiquing the anti-revisionist marxism-leninism that preceded and partially influenced contemporary maoism––the marxism-leninism that only called itself "maoist" because it was declaring fidelity to the event of the Chinese Revolution.  These movements were more "Mao Zedong Thought" than "maoist" even if they veiled themselves with the latter term.  But we would have to wonder why Goldner would waste his time critiquing this phenomenon since it collapsed when China went revisionist.  Nor was it ever as unified as he assumes, let alone guilty of the ideology he ascribes to it here and there.  Besides, the contemporary maoist movement has critiqued this period, and continues to do critique this period, in order to learn from the past––indeed maoism proper emerged from the very "notes towards a critique" that Goldner fails to provide.

Even if we could assign Goldner's critique to the anti-revisionist "maoism" of the 1960s and 1970s, however, we would be hard-pressed to accept it as a very good critique.  He dismisses all of these anti-revisionist groups as "stalinist thugs" and again fails to look at the ideology they actually expressed.  For Goldner, any marxism that does not emerge out of trotskyism is "stalinist" and maybe this, more than anything else, explains why he could be so wrong about the object he is trying to describe.  Fidelity to the trotskyist discourse which has become hegemonic amongst marxist intellectuals at the centres of capitalism demands a dismissal of any communist theory that is marxist-leninist but not trotskyist as "stalinist".

I mean, just look at the way Goldner speaks about the Chinese Revolution.  It is clear that, like so many anti-maoists influenced by trotskyism, he thinks that the theory of New Democracy is some sort of class collaboration with the bourgeoisie.  (Hell, the Spartacist League will go on and on about this whenever the word "maoism" is spoken in their presence––usually they yell at you about the "maoists" in Indonesia, again ignoring the fact that there really was no such thing, and how they supposedly followed the theory of New Democracy into class collaboration.)  The attempt to make the theory of New Democracy, which marxist-leninist-maoists think only applies to "semi-feudal and semi-colonial" contexts, the central theory of maoism is telling: this is because the theory of Permanent Revolution is central to trotskyism and so New Democracy, which is meant to answer the same question (how do you make socialist revolution in a country that has not had a bourgeois revolution?) but that actually succeeded in answering that question in practice, is treated as central to maoism––never mind that maoists do not think it's one of the fully universal insights of maoism, we're just going to tell you all that this is your central theory since it offends our central theory!

But even though the theory of New Democracy is not the central theoretical point of marxism-leninism-maoism, it is still important to note that, like most people influenced by the trotskyist discourse, Goldner's understanding of said theory and what actually happened in China during the "New Democratic" period is yet again the same silly understanding I can find in a Workers Vanguard article.  I would suggest that Goldner read On New Democracy by Mao Zedong, and maybe some histories by critical academics and revolutionary historians… he might learn something.

What is most telling about Goldner's article, however, is that it spends most of the time discussing the Chinese Revolution as an instance of "maoism".  Yes it is important to understand the Chinese Revolution in order to understand maoism (something he is incapable of doing based on the shoddiness of his historiography, especially in regards to the Cultural Revolution and his insistence, like so many bourgeois historians who want to see Authoritarian-Stalin™ lurking in the corner of every communism revolution, that it was simply the result of Mao trying to hold unto his personal power), but the Chinese Revolution was not a "maoist revolution" anymore than the Russian Revolution was a "leninist revolution".  Leninism emerged as a theoretical development of communism by critically examining the first marxist revolution in Russia… Thus, maoism would emerge as a theoretical development of communism through the critical examination of the successes and failures of the first marxist-leninist world historical revolution in China.  And this summation of the Chinese Revolution did not crystallize until 1993 with the RIM statement linked above.

So Goldner's article, despite proving that he's a shoddy scholar, is just another example of intentional ignorance towards an ideology behind today's most significant revolutionary movements.  The fact that it was published in a medium that calls itself "insurgent" simply proves that there are leftists at the centres of capitalism who like to imagine they support insurgency but who really have no intention of honestly investigating actually existing communist insurgency.  Instead, like Goldner, they like to dismiss every communist insurgency because it does not accord to the dead-end marxism––a marxism that has no interest in figuring out how to make revolution––they have chosen to adopt.  Which is why I think "Insurgent Notes" should probably change its name since it's obvious it doesn't care about what has inspired contemporary communist insurgency.


  1. Something is wrong with your links, JMP.

    1. Blogger is buggy. For some reason, in the past few months, it hasn't always allowed the link function to work just as it sometimes disables the ability for people to either read or participate in the comment string. In retrospect I should have started this blog on Wordpress years back, but now it is too late.

  2. The major problem with the Goldner essay lies in the third paragraph: "Maoism is a variant of Stalinism". Most of the inaccuracies of this and other ultra-lefts attacks on Mao and the Chinese Revolution flow from this unexamined premise- because they already have their established critique of Stalinism in the Soviet Union, they feel free to just stamp the same critique onto the history of the PRC post-1949, and totally ignore that it was a different revolution, different time period, different circumstances and tactics. There is no need to do any actual research on what Mao actually wrote, what were his policies, since he was just an Asian clone of Stalin. As someone who self identified as a Trotskyist for a while, I was guilty of this intellectual laziness myself. It was only after I was told by some Maoist comrades of mine to read 'Some of Us' and other books about the Mao era that I realized that the PRC during the Cultural Revolution had workers management of production and grassroots popular participation that has no parallel whatsoever in the Soviet Union under Stalin. If many Trotskyists were not so damn dogmatic they would actually be in favor of the Cultural Revolution because it was the mass uprising against bureaucracy that Leon Trotsky had called for in the USSR!

    None of this is to say that many of Mao's policies do not deserve criticism(Chinese foreign policy from the 1970's onward of lining up with every reactionary who opposed the Soviet Union being one obvious example), but such criticisms must come from a place of understanding where Mao and the Chinese Communists were coming from, not from a place of dogmatic reductionist ignorance.

    1. All good points. Yes, Mao's policies (especially those you pointed out) should be criticized, just as Marx and Lenin should be criticized––and the political openings they represented actually, in my opinion, give us the critical tools to critique them. I also think the "Maoism = Stalinism" reductionism comes from a certain discourse about socialism heavily influenced by the Trotskyist interpretation of things where any Marxist-Leninism that is not Trotskyism is somehow guilty of "Stalinism". This is probably the result of Trotskyist marxists (as I've discussed elsewhere) waging a successful ideological struggle in academia and the intellectual sphere––something that, in other ways, is laudable.


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