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Reflections on "Maoism or Trotskyism"

Since the good folks at Maison Norman Bethune have been selling a pamphlet form of my Maoism or Trotskyism polemic, I was invited there this past weekend to speak about what I had written and answer questions from whomever was in attendance.  Aside from being my first experience talking with a translator––teaching me that, in such a context, I need to learn to change my pacing and pause frequently––the event gave me the chance to engage with questions directly pertaining to the content of the polemic.

The discussion revealed that there were areas in the original piece, some of which were tangental but still important, that required expansion.  Already, from emails and internet comments, I had been made aware of points that needed to be further explained––and I worked some of this into my presentation on the weekend––but I discovered that there was still more to be explained.  What was most interesting, though, is that what required explanation had nothing specifically to do with the Maoism versus Trotskyism dilemma, but broader issues to which the polemic communicated.  Since I was prepared for a Trotskyist ambush, I was pleasantly surprised by the nature of the conversation.

1) There are really no ortho-Trotskyists in French Canada: I was informed by the Norman Bethune Bookstore that this was the case, but I still had to see it to believe it.  Apparently Trotskyists of the dogmato-revisionist variety are a phenomenon, at least in Canada, of the anglo world.  Due to the fact that Maison Norman Bethune is in that part of Montreal that is predominantly french-speaking, no Trotskyists (aside from an ex-Trotskyist, who was not a francophone) were in attendance.  Of course, since my polemic was also aimed at the Trotskyist narrative that affects even non-Trotskyist "non-tendency" marxists, as well as a host of post-trotskyist organizations, the conversation was better served without the presence of these missionary wing nuts.  Furthermore, the absence of Trotskyists in French Canada is truly ironic: it is the Trotskyist tendency in Canada that continues to defend Quebec independence as a revolutionary demand, whereas the [still] primarily Maoist tendency (since the PCR-RCP began in french-speaking Canada where it still has its social base) that has rejected separation and instead applied the national question to the indigenous nations.

2) Left Communism seems to be a more significant tendency, at least in Canada, then I had at first assumed: While there were no Trotskyists in attendance, there was a contingent of left communists who made some decent contributions to the conversation.  Although I did not agree with much of what they were arguing, I'll admit that I have a soft spot for this tendency and am sympathetic to their demand that the philosophical dilemma should not be "Maoism or Trotskyism" but "Maoism or Left Communism".  While I am more inclined to group "left communism" into the general movementism that I was already seeing Maoism and Trotskyism as being distinct from, and really have not encountered a significant left communist organization that is not itself affected by the Trotskyist narrative.  Indeed, the left communists in attendance, though maintaining an anti-trotskyism (they even gave me an excellent treatise against Trotskyism), were still affected by the trotskyist discourse in that they maintained fidelity to the rejection of "socialism in one country"––something that, as I pointed out in the original polemic, is a hallmark of trotskyist thought.  Still, in the future it might be worth looking at "Maoism or Left Communism", though this would be decidedly less polemic since, as noted, unlike Trotskyism I have a soft spot for left communism and feel that the left communists (again unlike Trotsky) have contributed significant theoretical interventions to the development of revolutionary science.

3) Confusions over the definition of "socialism": This confusion is what made me realized that even left communists have sublimated the Trotskyist concept of "socialism in one country" that is attributed to "Stalinism".  One of the left communists, claiming that perhaps Trotsky was correct in this regard, pointed out that I do not clearly define "socialism" in my pamphlet and argued that there has never been a socialist mode of production––both the Soviet Union and China were not, according to him, examples of socialism.  Now this is a significant theoretical problem but I feel that it becomes decidedly less of a problem once we clear up the semantic confusion of "socialism"––something I attempted to do in the polemic––and understand that socialism is not precisely a mode of production.

Unfortunately, arguments about how Russia and China (and lesser socialisms), even before taking the revisionist path, were "never socialist" is usually dependent on the assumption that socialism means x and x is a mode of production.  The thing is, this x is an exercise in idealism: 1) Marx and Engels never imagined a socialist mode of production in this way––they spoke of communism and socialism interchangeably, and the mode of production they meant was a "classless society" (i.e. what we now call "communism" not "socialism"); 2) Lenin's theory of socialism generally meant dictatorship of the proletariat, a transitionary state that was required to build capitalism, and he conceptualized this by assembling various and disorganized insights from Marx and Engels, but again Marx and Engels did not short-hand "socialism" as "dictatorship of the proletariat"––this is what people who agree with Lenin's theory of the state understand as "socialism"; 4) it is erroneous to consider a transitionary period as a completed mode of production because we know, by examining history, that the period in which capitalism was built in, for instance, Britain (from the commons enclosures to the emergence of a fully articulate capitalist mode of production) was not a unique mode of production but a period between feudalism and capitalism where a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie built its hegemony and neutralized the feudal class; 5) those who claim that actually existing socialisms were not real socialism have their own idea what a transition should look like (i.e. "workers councils") and so, based simply on this ad hoc position, dismiss anything that does not look like their x as being "not really socialism"… in some ways this is very disingenuous.

None of this is to say that socialism does not have key characteristics that make it socialism but we need to understand that it is a social formation rather than a mode of production.  These characteristics are defined by the class and class ideology in command, relations of production that attempt to develop the forces of production towards the end of class society, a society where human needs are placed over human desire (i.e. where the basic needs to survive as a human are provided for as much as possible), etc.  Obviously this is a period of struggle, and one that can fail to accomplish its aims, but simply because it does not look like some ideal x invented simply to claim that Russia under Stalin or China under Mao were not socialist because they deviate from this x that generally became a coherent theory after the fact is problematic.  The moment of not socialism happens when the class ideology in command is bourgeois, when the road towards capitalist restoration is taken, when the dictatorship of the proletariat crumbles.  Simply because one does not like aspects of these actually existing socialisms does not mean that they were not socialism just as it does not mean that some of the rightly critiqued elements of these examples of socialism did not, perhaps, contribute to their failures.  In any case, all of this is worth expanding upon at a later date, and I'm glad this question was asked.

Thankfully, some of the PCR-RCP supporters in attendance orientated the discussion around the prime point of my article when the talk was in danger of going off into vague theoretical terrain: the question of how to make revolution, which is why we are Marxist-Leninist-Maoists in the first place––it is the tradition that this constantly producing People's Wars and teaching us something about revolutionary strategy.  To ask "Maoism or Trotskyism", then, is larger than simply a discussion between tendencies: we can substitute "Trotskyism" with other tendencies and ask the same question in order to struggle for a political line that places the necessity of class revolution at the forefront of practice.

My thanks to Maison Norman Bethune for enjoying my polemic enough to distribute it as well as inviting me to speak at one of their Saturday events.  If any of my readers live in Montreal but have not been to that bookstore, you should check it out when you have the time.


  1. Please, provide textual evidences for your claims that Lenin considered socialism as a period of transtion with the dictatorship of proletariat as a political superstructure. My reading of Lenin leads to the opposite conclusion:
    1. In 'The State and Revolution' in Chapter V Lenin distinguishes 'The Transition from Capitalism to Communism', 'The First Phase of Communist Society' and 'The Higher Phase of Communist Society' as separate stages of development. It is 'the first phase of communist society' that he refers to elsewhere as a socialism.
    2. In 'Economics And Politics In The Era Of The Dictatorship Of The Proletariat' Lenin many times counterposes the socialism as a classless society and the transitional period or the dictatorship of proletariat as a post-revolutionary society.

    In fact, I've heard this idea many times from Russian Stalinist and Maoists but none of them was able to provide textual support to this idea in the work of Marx, Engels and Lenin. I consider this as an attempt to rescue Stalin's notion of socialism where dictatorship of proletariat and class struggle persist. In fact, it is an agreement with the critique of Soviet society that had not reach the goals that Marx and Lenin described as socialism or communism but in the same time it is also a defense of Stalin as they suppose to prove that he did not distort Lenin's notion of socialism by wrongly attributing Stalinist meaning of socialism to Lenin.

    I think it was the confusion of the transition to socialism and the socialism proper that contributed to ideological capitulation to the restoration of capitalism in USSR as all distortions of transition were seen as features of socialism per se.

    1. This is the problem that I was indicating in my very quick point by point outline, that was not an analysis: you have claimed an opposite conclusion based on different semantic uses of "socialism"––I indicated this was the problem prior to Lenin with Marx. If anything the concept of "socialism" as the transitional period begins in State and Revolution with the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat but I think you're correct to note that it is still messy. Just as the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat is not really a clear concept in Marx, a concept of "socialism" as something different from "communism" does not emerge until after Lenin's death when there is something called "Leninism" that stands above Lenin.

      In fact, this was my general point with that quick assessment above, and the reason why I argued that it was worth further discussion later. Finding textual evidence for concepts that were really developed later is dogmatic and religious; people do the same with Marx, trying to find "evidence" that he and Engels believed in the theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat based on letters and quick comments made about the Paris Commune. But Kautsky and other revisionists in Lenin's time were quick to point out that the textual evidence of a coherent theory of "dictatorship of the proletariat" was weak.

    2. As I have already pointed out, there's a distinction in Lenin between the period of transition or dictatorship of proletariat and the first phase of communist society (they are even discussed in separate sections of chapter V). Surely there could be no theory of transition to socialism in Lenin's own time (like what is provided in the work of Istvan Meszaros or in Samir Amin's idea of the long transition from capitalism to socialism) but you are talking not about development of some initial underdeveloped Lenin's insights but about complete distortion of his insights. It is not an issue of religion, just an issue of scientific correctness and conscientiousness.

      In fact, no one can prohibit you re-invent the meaning of the word but there are two buts about it:
      1. Wrong attribution to previous theorists that fakes their ideas (not maliciously but anyway).
      2. No one really understand what you mean except some members of your circle because the notion contradicts the tradition derived from the work of above-mentioned theorists.

      To my mind, this reinvention of the notion of socialism resembles strongly Political Marxist reinvention of capitalism - they also wrongly attribute their odd ideas to Marx and they use the definition that is not accepted out of their sectarian intellectual current.

    3. You aren't really paying attention to what I'm saying, and I think it is pretty problematic to claim that this is a distortion of Lenin's insights considering that seeing the term "socialism" has been short-handed now to mean "dictatorship of the proletariat", just as in Lenin's time it meant, well, "communism" (as did the term social democracy, but now the concept has been changed hasn't it?). You claim "scientific correctness" but science is something that is open to the future and always in development. So what does "socialism" mean for you? If you want to use it as Lenin used it, and as even Stalin used it in "The Foundations of Leninism", then you simply have to say that it is a synonym for "communism" and so of course the Soviet Union and China were not "socialism" in this sense.

      The development of the concept as simply meaning "dictatorship of proletariat" is not something I've invented, and it has pretty much been common parlance for the ML tradition for a long time, even if it is something of a semantic sleight of hand (and again, the reason I mentioned that this was worth exploring is because I agree with you that there is a problem with naming "socialism" vis-a-vis a concept of a mode of production for all of the reasons you've cited––for some reason you just don't get what I'm saying), but these semantics have caused serious confusion.

      So let's cut through the level of semantics, which is not the level of science but the level of appearance, and forget about the name "socialism" that was indeed used as a synonym for "communism" by Marx, Engels, and Lenin. When many people use it now, both Trotskyists and Maoists and even other marxists, they do tend to use it as a synonym for "dictatorship of the proletariat"––it is not the wild reinvention you suggest it is, it is kind of a popular semantic shift. So if I agree with you and say that the word "socialism" (which is just a word and originally was a word that meant the concept that we now call "communism") should not be used to speak of Revolutionary China and the Soviet Union and instead use the term "dictatorship of the proletariat" would you agree that the dictatorship of the proletariat is not a coherent mode of production anymore than the period in which the bourgeoisie was in command and building the forces/relations of capitalism? Because that is what I mean here, and it seems you are playing with the shift in semantics and confusing this with scientific insight.

      Furthermore, I do not think the Political Marxists utterly reinvented the concept of capitalism: I think they reinvented some things, and did so erroneously, but I also think they recognized certain aspects of capitalism that do contribute to a proper understanding of capitalism's emergence. That being said, I generally disagree with their understanding of political revolution (i.e. how many of them reject the French Revolution as essential to the emergence of capitalism), their odd forces of production approach disguised as a relations of production approach, and their focus solely on the internal dynamics of certain areas of Western Europe without any real analysis of the colonial dimension of merchant capital.

    4. As you asked what 'socialism' means for me, I reply that it is synonymous with the first phase of communism that follows the period of transition (and political form of the latter is the dictatorship of proletariat). So, yes, socialism means for me the mode of production as well as for your opponents on the pamphlet event, and I think that the mode of production meaning is still dominant (also among Stalinists and Brezhnevists who consider USSR to be socialist society). Also, I can't find any serious Marxist theorist who used 'socialism' as synonymous with the definition of transition, non-mode of production. In other words, the notion you use may be accepted in some political circles but it is absent from Marxist theory, from the scientific usage. So while I consider the idea of transition/dictatorship of proletariat as not a coherent mode of production to be correct, I just call you to abandon the usage of the word 'socialism' as a one that leads to confusion. It is much more meaningful to discuss with Marxists of other currents than Maoists whether Stalin's or Mao's policies actually contributed to the establishment of the new mode of production or to the restoration of the old one, than to defend the definition.

      I think that re-invention of the meaning of capitalism has a double dimension in PM. First, in their notion of agrarian capitalism as a market compulsion, even without the wage-labor and dispossession (see, and, second, in their insistence on the strict 'separation of political and economic' that leads to rejection of designation of even some contemporary cases as capitalism which are universally considered to be examples of this mode of production among other Marxists (see Duzgun's work on Turkey).

    5. As an aside: your comment on the Cope post, though I approved it, isn't showing up for some reason. I think this is due to the fact that blogspot, for some reason, only allows a certain number of quotes––I've run into this problem before.

      Otherwise: what I was claiming is that the word "socialism" is often short-hand for "dictatorship of the proletariat"… But if we are to speak of the dictatorship of the proletariat, even, then we end up having to talk about something that is not a mode of production and Bettelheim was coming to this conclusion in his analysis of the Soviet Union. As for saying that socialism is a mode of production separate from communism, this runs into several problems because there is still an inability to say what this means aside from "collective ownership" which isn't a very scientific concept––so my point here was always trying to figure out a scientific way of assessing socialism, something that you yourself haven't done aside from say it is scientific. I also feel that the use of the term "socialism" has always been a confusion, from the very beginning, when it was just a synonym for communism––something you don't seem to recognize.

      Aside from this, though, I feel you don't seem to understand precisely what I have been saying and have generally ignored what my comments were intended to mean: that there needs to be a thorough assessment of socialism, that even simply speaking of it as synonymous with the dictatorship of the proletariat might be a problem, and that even if it is a point that stands before communism (which does make it a transitionary phase, because this is what transition means) it requires a thorough assessment. There is a general failure to do this amongst political economists and usually just an appeal to "Lenin said this" or "Trotsky said that" or "Stalin sometimes meant this". *If* socialism is something different than the dictatorship of the proletariat, that is, then what makes it different from communism? There was really no significant scientific assessment in this area; Bettelheim attempted to make sense of this in his analysis of the Soviet Union, and Amin has also tried to make sense of this (which led him to use the term "actually existing socialism"), and no one has yet provided a similar assessment of China under Mao. What we are left with is simply a non-scientific proposition: "socialism means x", without the kind of theorization that is required of a science (explanatory depth, etc.), and then we decide that it is scientific. This is a problem. We cannot simply say "x is scientific" because we think it is scientific. More investigation is required here: something that I admitted in the post above.

      As for the Political Marxists, I agree with your analysis––the separation of political/economic is definitely a crucial problem, and this has what led to their claims that the French Revolution was not a capitalist revolution, the Enlightenment had nothing to do with capitalism, etc. On the whole I feel that they have a produced a framework that is problematic and flies in the face of historical materialism (they even reject some of the scientific concepts such as "mode of production"), and I have argued this frequently with people I know who are committed to PM. I still think they have provided some valuable insights based on the way they look at capitalism: refocusing our attention on the enclosure of the commons in Britain, for example, led to some useful insights––I think the fact that they narrowly focus on these moments, though, prevent them from being significant as an entire theory.

    6. My comment on Cope is visible to me.

      I agree with some part of your point although I don't understand your point about me as someone who claims that socialism and communism are different modes of production - surely it wasn't me as what I tried to say all the time was that in Marxist theory dictatorship of proletariat meant a transition to communist mode of production that was supposed to have two stages in its development.

      But I agree with you that scientific bases of this distinction between socialism and communism as stages of the same mode of production are rather weak. Marx (in 'Critique of Gotha program') and Lenin (in 'State and Revolution') considered it to be different stages of the same mode of production with the only significant distinction in distribution patterns (according to labor in the first stage of communism a.k.a. socialism and according to needs at the second stage of communism). I don't think that this prophecy is scientific as it was not based on the analysis of the real dynamics of communist society. Surely, this future mode of production should have some internal stages of development (as capitalism can be divided on classical and monopoly forms with more sub-divisions like Keynesian and neoliberal monopoly capitalism that represent temporal variations of the same mode of production) but we can not know what the future of this mode of production would be. We can only suppose that some inherent social tendencies of the mode of production may result in some internal transformation (like monopolization in capitalism that was admitted in 'Capital') but I don't think that at the present moment we can theorize these tendencies in the development of socialist / communist mode of production.

      For the purpose of this question it is enough to understand the difference between the transition to the new mode of production and the new mode of production proper (which is usually called socialism and communism) that had still not existed in its developed form. As you had correctly pointed there is a need to study the dynamics of transition, and I think a lot was done in this respect (although I think that science will be able to fully grasp the nature of transition only after the establishment of socialism as transitions can be fully understood only from the vantage point of some reached destinations). And all what I initially wanted to say is that it is not useful to use the notion of socialism to analyze this dynamics of transition if there is a need to concentrate on the study and not on political justification of some particular experiences, that was precisely my point.

      If to continue the analogy with the development of capitalism I think that period of transition / dictatorship of proletariat has historical parallels with mercantilist age: new mode of production appears in some foci under conditions of uneven development, uses forms of production inherited from the previous mode (the formal subsumption) and the state violence and compulsion without which its becoming was simply impossible, and this process takes many years (even hundreds) before leading to the mode of production that develops on its own ground so as it is possible to say that new mode of production exists but exists-in-becoming.

    7. Hmm... As I suspected earlier, it seems you are actually closer to what I think, but the problem here is what I suggested earlier: the problem of semantics. You don't seem to believe (for some reason) that the term "socialism" was applied to the stage that builds "communism" outside of "my circle". So you might claim it is "not useful" to use that term, but the problem is that it is already in use, and is in use outside of my political circle and has been for a long time. In fact all of the debates around "socialism in one country" often focus on this understanding of the concept. The only reason I brought it up above in the way I did was due to a question about "socialism" that I thought was worthwhile to examine, and then pointed out concerns regarding this examination.

      And yes, I eventually did see that your Cope comment posted. At first I didn't realize it was on a reply string rather than at the end of the entire comment string. Sorry about the confusion.

    8. "The socialist revolution is not one single act, not one single battle on a single front; but a whole epoch of intensified class conflicts, a long series of battles on all fronts, i.e., battles around all the problems of economics and politics, which can culminate only in the expropriation of the bourgeoisie." Lenin, The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination (1916)

    9. Nikolai you quotation is about socialist revolution and not socialism. It is absolutely consistent with my point.

    10. No, Lenin does not consider the transitional stage and the dictatorship of the proletariat as separate from the lower phase of communism. This is plain as day in the text.

      Section 2, "The Transition from Capitalism to Communism", talks *in general* about the entire transition from capitalism to communism, and the necessity of a State (different from a bourgeois State), etc, during that transition.

      Section 3, "The First Phase of Communist Society", talks about the first stage of the transitional society. I quote:

      > It is this communist society, which has just emerged into the light of day out of the womb of capitalism and which is in every respect stamped with the birthmarks of the old society, that Marx terms the “first”, or lower, phase of communist society.

      Obviously something that has "just emerged into the light of day out of the womb of capitalism" is society as it exists immediately after a revolution. There has been no time for any transition. Now begins the protracted process of transition to a classless society, which will take an indeterminate amount of time. After a brief explanation about the need of laws ("bourgeois laws") in this period, Lenin says:

      > And so, in the first phase of communist society (usually called socialism) "bourgeois law" is not abolished in its entirety, but only in part, only in proportion to the economic revolution so far attained, i.e., only in respect of the means of production.

      So by his time this lower phase of communism, the transitional stage which begins immediately after capitalism, was already known as "socialism", as opposed to "complete communism" or the higher phase. He, and others, did not saw them anymore as *completely* synonymous.

      Finally, section 4 "The Higher Phase of Communist Society" explains the meaning of actual communism, with its classless society and the absence of State, laws, division of labor, etc. Now Lenin remarks:

      > But the scientific distinction between socialism and communism is clear. What is usually called socialism was termed by Marx the “first”, or lower, phase of communist society. Insofar as the means of production becomes common property, the word “communism” is also applicable here, providing we do not forget that this is not complete communism.

      Which is, as JMP mentioned, the sense in which the two words still carry a degree of similarity, making this matter more confusing.

      All that being said, only two distinct phases are discussed in the text, and socialism or the lower phase of communism is said to begin its existence *immediately* after the violent overthrow of the capitalist order.

    11. As JMP said it is an issue of semantics how we call the transition but I think he will agree that it is not just semantics how we consider the very process of the transition and its goals. And distortions of classic ideas play important role in the distortion of our perspective on theory of transition. As I have pointed out above I don't think we can agree with everything Marx and Lenin said on the transition to socialism and socialism per se but let's not at least distort what they said in the interests of legitimation of Stalinist political practice.

      Lenin discussed the transition to socialism as a process of abolition of classes and the special form of the state which is called dictatorship of proletariat. But he writes in the section the first phase of communism that this phase is a society where classes are already abolished and 'the state' ceases to be the state as an institution of class oppression and has the function of the regulation of distribution as a footprint of 'bourgeois law'. He wrote in this section:

      "The state withers away insofar as there are no longer any capitalists, any classes, and, consequently, no class can be suppressed.

      But the state has not yet completely withered away, since the still remains the safeguarding of "bourgeois law", which sanctifies actual inequality. For the state to wither away completely, complete communism is necessary".

      And what he writes in the section on the transition to communism:

      "Furthermore, during the transition from capitalism to communism suppression is still necessary, but it is now the suppression of the exploiting minority by the exploited majority"

      How can't you see that these passages are fundamentally contradictory because they refer to distinct states of development? I can't understand this what causes this highly selective reading.

      And in his very important article 'Economics And Politics In The Era Of The Dictatorship Of The Proletariat' he opposes socialism to the dictatorship of proletariat:

      " Socialism means the abolition of classes.

      In order to abolish classes it is necessary, first, to overthrow the landowners and capitalists. This part of our task has been accomplished, but it is only a part, and moreover, not the most difficult part. In order to abolish classes it is necessary, secondly, to abolish the difference between factory worker and peasant, to make workers of all of them. This cannot be done all at once. This task is incomparably more difficult and will of necessity take a long time. It is not a problem that can be solved by overthrowing a class. It can be solved only by the organisational reconstruction of the whole social economy, by a transition from individual, disunited, petty commodity production to large-scale social production. This transition must of necessity be extremely protracted. "

      "Socialism means the abolition of classes. The dictatorship of the proletariat has done all it could to abolish classes. But classes cannot be abolished at one stroke.

      And classes still remain and will remain in the era of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The dictatorship will become unnecessary when classes disappear. Without the dictatorship of the proletariat they will not disappear"

      When classes disappear and when state loses its functions of class oppression and retains only administrative functions (that is ceases to be the state) we can speak about the socialism as a 'coherent mode of production' (as JMP says). In Lenin's terms at least.

    12. > But he writes in the section the first phase of communism that this phase is a society where classes are already abolished and 'the state' ceases to be the state as an institution of class oppression and has the function of the regulation of distribution as a footprint of 'bourgeois law'.

      Sigh. That is obviously nonsense since the lower phase of communism is society as it "emerged into the light of day out of the womb of capitalism", quoting Lenin who is quoting Marx. How on Earth can classes cease to exist the second after a revolution and capitalism?

      Both of your quotes are not contradictory at all, I have no idea of why you think they are. The very same document you quote at the end says:

      > And classes still remain and will remain in the era of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The dictatorship will become unnecessary when classes disappear. Without the dictatorship of the proletariat they will not disappear.

      Which means that the DotP ends when there are no longer social classes, which *by definition* means we have reached communism. If there is a State, there are classes, and one rules over the others. Now we are ruled by the capitalist class. Under socialism the proletariat will rule (in *its* dictatorship), when classes are gone we will be in classless society, ie, communism, and there will be *no* State at all.

      This is Marxism 101, and pretending that anyone who says this somehow "revises" Marxism to legitimize "Stalinism" is nonsense, plain and simple.

    13. LOL. All your "argument" is based on the idea that communists society that "emerged into the light of day out of the womb of capitalism" is a depiction of society immediately after revolution. But it is absolutely inconsistent with everything else Marx, Engels ("with the introduction of the socialist order of society, the state will dissolve of itself and disappear") and Lenin wrote on communism and its phases, and you are powerless to give any meaningful objections to what Lenin writes on the first phase of communism as a classless society, you simply ignore it.

      The only meaningful way to understand what is a communist society that "emerged into the light of day out of the womb of capitalism" is make a distinction between transition and socialism. A communists society that "emerged into the light of day out of the womb of capitalism" is a post-transitional society that did everything to abolish classes. Transition with the dictatorship of proletariat as its political form does the negative work of abolishing, and the first phase of communism or socialism starts the positive development of this mode of production "on its own foundations", it creates these very foundations that will reach the full development in the subsequent phase. According to Marx and Lenin the only significant difference between them is distribution pattern.

      Imagine you download a program from the web. The process of downloading is dictatorship of proletariat, and even you if downloaded the 95% of file you still can't say that you have the program. Then, after you complete downloading you have Program v. 1.0 (socialism) and after you use it for some time you upgrade it to Program 2.0 that fixes some of its bugs (communism). What you are doing is trying to share on the web the corrupted file that you haven't downloaded till the end because you had some problems with Internet connection as a fully-functioning Program v. 1.0, and because of that you do everything to discredit the very Program v. 1.0 as people think that this broken file is Program v. 1.0 as it should be.

    14. To be perfectly clear:
      Transition / dictatorship of proletariat:
      "Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat"

      Socialism / first phase of communism:
      "What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges"
      "But these defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society"

      It is precisely the transition / dictatorship of proletariat which is "prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society". But!!! Marx writes about first stage of communism: "when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society" - once again, "after", he does not equalizes "prolonged birth pangs" with socialism as such, socialism follows these "prolonged birth pangs".

    15. Your examples about computer programs and "what will people think"are illuminating, because they show the reason why you are really doing this: you move into the indefinite future a concept of "socialism" that only exists in your head and that you strongly want to detach from any actual practice because you see as mandatory to separate yourself (and the idea of "socialism") from the entire history of practical socialist construction that has happened in the last 150 years. You take the point of view of bourgeois society and their analysis and history of socialist societies, assume their verdict that they were evil and warped, and struggle to dogmatically separate a set of enshrined ideas from their practice. For this you create a "transition to the transition" phase, which you graciously allow to have actually existed, in order to save the sacred name of "socialism". Given that, you can call it DotP, socialism, or "Transitional Phase Stage #1" it does not matter at all (and in that regard JMP is, again, correct in saying that is is largely an irrelevant debate about semantics and words).

      Socialism, the transitional phase to Communism, is a process. It's not a clearly defined set of properties, a checklist, that you have in a spreadsheet and that you can tick one by one until you happily declare that you have reached it. It is not a well defined mode of production. People like yourself that push a *transitional phase* into the indefinite future to save it from reality not only won't ever live to see it realized, but are in fact preventing it from being realized with their reactionary and idealist politics. Soon enough you'll also enshrine the transition to the transition as a fixed metaphysical construct, and will start to create transition to the transition to the transition phases, and so on ad infinitum.

      We are, in any case, talking in circles, and I believe my point is made. Until the next time.

    16. It is funny how people who start with the statement that socialism = dictatorship of proletariat and finally encounter the real meaning of dictatorship of proletariat in Marx and Lenin (and the absence of break between them) finally resort to the unimportance of this distinction as a matter of semantics. No, this distinction matters in political terms.

      First. In fact, the basic understanding of socialism as a mode of production was common both to Marx and Engels and to Stalin's revision of this notion (unlike Maoist revision of Stalinist revision that rejected the most idiotic ideas about the possibility of classes, class struggles and dictatorship of proletariat in already built socialism but preserved renamed transition into socialism because of adherence to Stalin's actual policies; BTW it is funny that you both who support equalization of socialism with transition don't criticize Stalin for his non-processual, mode-of-production understanding of socialism and how it is built). When he proclaimed that socialism was largely built in the USSR after the success of the first five-year plan, he meant that the transition was over, and working people ho lived in USSR also considered this society as already post-transitional, and connected the alienation from the means of production and the impossibility of any influence on the decision-making over the politics and production as inherent features of this 'mode of production'. And here's one of the most explanation of workers' hostility or passivity to Soviet system during its breakdown lies. Many actual material reasons for working-class protest were legitimate but it was the false consciousness derived from 'socialist' propaganda that resulted in widespread worker's support to capitalism. As bureaucracy dispossessed workers politically, the wrong concept of already existent socialism disarmed them theoretically.

      Second. How can we explain the fall of the Soviet system? I think that explanations that prioritize some 'capitalist' side of then-existing system like the influence of commodity relations (Kosygin reforms) or 'bourgeoisie' in the illegal sector do not withstand any empirical criticism, and the key to the restoration should be seen in particular features of the blocked transition as the property of private capitalists was nationalized but the state ceased to be the dictatorship of proletariat. In other words, we need categories to explain the contradictions of society that is not already capitalist but at the same time not socialist and after some moment of history does not move in the direction to socialism because the bureaucracy reproduces its own domination and resists the withering away of the state. Yes, I know, there's an idea that when the group of bureaucrats in power that allegedly advances the communism, than we have a "socialist" society, and with another group of bureaucrats in power we have a society that moves towards capitalism, while in both cases relations of state and working class are absolutely same. This concept of politics under transition is absolutely subjectivist, elitists and voluntarist and has nothing to do with Marxism. And again, it disarms the working class as he just needs "good" bureaucrats instead of self-emancipation. Even when it criticizes some "bad" bureaucrats (like "Khruschevite-Brezhnevite revisionists"), it anyway contributes to the legitimation of the alienation of the working class from the state and thus to pro-capitalist effects of this alienation on the working-class consciousness (see previous abstract).

    17. Okay, this is getting absurd. I allowed you to argue back and forth over something that was clearly semantic. It was interesting at first but now it is devolving into the most asinine hair-splitting. Furthermore, you have made one of the most absurd tangental comments that is just flat out wrong: "it is funny that you both who support equalization of socialism with transition don't criticize Stalin for his non-processual, mode-of-production understanding of socialism and how it is built." I can't speak for Anonymous, here, but I can speak for myself. I don't think Stalin's understanding of socialism was correct, and I have never claimed *anywhere* to have any fidelity to Stalin's theories of socialism. I think Stalin's theories are about as useful as Trotskyists, perhaps slightly more so because unlike Trotsky Stalin was, at one point, actually chairing actually existing socialism. But otherwise, I have indeed found them theoretically problematic and have indicated why I think "Stalinism" is a theoretical dead-end for years on this blog and in my organizational life.

      You were making some interesting points at first when I was discussing things with you, and aside from your claims about "my circle" (which is actually not some tiny group but a historical trajectory of marxism, and I am a little annoyed that you've been somewhat dishonest about this), have felt your interventions were useful. This response, however, is so utterly tangental and a the most vague demonstration of idealist hair-splitting that doesn't at all disagree with any of the previous points, but only disagrees over SYNTAX (that is right there is nothing in the content of your responses that provides a critical counter-point at this point) that it has become ludicrous.

      You speak of revisionism but it is clear that this is a large exercise of dogmato-revisionism where all you have done is side-tracked what was at one point an interesting discussion into some Spart-style level of religiousity. So at this point you're contributing nothing interesting, and combined with the insult in this post you are in violation of the comments policy.

    18. OK, I see. I apologize for misinterpretation of your position. In fact I only recently discovered you blog (after all this buzz about Zak Cope's book started) and I haven't read its full content. Perhaps, my passion about discussion of the meaning of socialism is explained by the fact that I live in a country where Stalinist mode-of-production notion of socialism is absolutely dominant both among its supporters and bourgeois ideologists. Please, give some links to your criticism of Stalinist theories.

    19. And I have a serious question: do those people who accept the notion of socialism as transition also accept the idea of future stages of development of communist society? I think there is the interesting methodological aspect about it, and it relates to understanding of process and break / leap / jump (sorry, I don't know particular English word for this turn in dialectics) in social development. I'll try to explain, if you would consider this as also a matter of "semantics" or "idealist hair-splitting", just feel free to ignore it and not open this comment.

      Imagine there are apes and humans. There are some transitional stages in the evolution from ape to human which is represented by anthropoid apes. They come really close to human biology, for example, chimpanzee genome is 98,8% similar to human. There is also a new-born "biological human" that can't speak, has no consciousness and is a potential social human and many respects similar to animal. And finally there's "social human".

      What I'm talking about is that we can speak about chimpanzee as a transition to "biological human". We can also consider "biological human" as a transition to "social human" (or if you don't like individualistic examples primitive human herd is a transition to civilization and social production). But we can't mix together chimpanzee and "biological human" as a process of transition to "social human" that results from specifically human personality development that has some underpinning in biological differences of human and chimpanzee. In other words, dialectics prepossesses not only processes but also leaps and breaks from previous stages.

      As you probably understand I consider Stalin's notion of socialism as an attempt to say that chimpanzee can speak and work in a way human do. But it seems to me if people who include the first stage of communism in a process of transition together with the social revolution and dictatorship of proletariat in fact do not understand the necessity of qualitative breaks and leaps in the course of transition. That's why I asked the question in the beginning of this comment as I maybe wrong about this position.

    20. I do think your second set of comments are largely still caught up in a debate around semantics. I also feel that you are conflating a number of different ideas in your last paragraph (i.e. the debate around "socialism" with the debate around "human nature", both of which were happening at the time but, though intersecting, were not identical). Truthfully, I can't speak for everyone who identifies "socialism" semantically with the DoP because that's a lot of people, many of them in contradictory traditions––I know you seem adverse to recognizing this, but this way of semantically understanding "socialism" is rather normative. At the same time, however, just because it is normative doesn't mean it is homogenous. So I can only speak for myself, here, and admit that I'm generally agnostic when it comes to future developments of communism.

      Outside of the semantics, this is an interesting point because it actually moves beyond this discussion of the name "socialism" into something broader. That is: is communism, because it is a classless society, truly the end of history? There is one interpretation that claims, since history is the history of class struggle and in communism classes no longer exist, then yes it is the "end of history". But then, if this is the case, does this mean that communist society will be in stasis? Obviously I do not think that this is so; I prefer to imagine that it will simply be a rupture with history as so far understood––to borrow from Althusser's terminology but to apply it in a different way, an "epistemic break". (Perhaps, more accurately, an ontological break.) But to think beyond that threshold feels largely speculative… And yet it is interesting, and perhaps even theoretically important, when it comes to the historical materialist concept of history's motion.

      As for my complaints with Stalinism, this is embedded throughout much of my work––both here and academically, so it is difficult to provide links that just talk about "Stalinism". Suffice to say, in my original polemic against Trotskyism (which I was invited to talk about at the event discussed on this post) I attacked the notion that Maoists were Stalinists, or that "Stalinism" was a coherent theory that had anything to offer, but this was largely implicit. I do have one post here, though it is brief, that might be of some interest––I do back-link it a bunch whenever I talk about so-called "Stalinism"––but it is pretty brief:

    21. Before I reply I'll ask more precise question - and what about Maoism in general - only socialism (as a label for transition) and communism or socialism (as a label for transition) and communism with stages?

    22. My answer to this question is above, and I think the entire communist movement since Marx is incapable of answering the question whether communism will possess its own historical stages. Clearly they wouldn't be stages defined by class struggle, so I am simply pointing out that a question *that cannot be answered* remains: will there be new historical stages once we've transgressed the limits of class society, or will there not be stages at all, or will this question be moot. It is something that cannot be solved scientifically and is merely the province of speculation.

  2. Hey - I enjoyed the event at Maison Norman Bethune, but was hoping to get some more elaboration on my (admittedly too vague) question re: Nepal, and how to assess when and by whom the road toward capitalist restoration will be taken. As you point out, "after the fact" critiques leave something wanting, and, as you said in your talk, not acting on an account of the potential for things to be messy/unsuccessful is not a better option in terms of making revolution.
    So, what I'm getting to (and this word-vomit is why I held off asking a follow-up at the time), is something like, "What lessons can we draw in terms of 'Who sold out and why?' from looking at Prachanda/Bhattarai?" What I'm hoping, specifically, is that there are things in particular we can point to, in terms of theory/practice, that we can point to and say, "Alright, let's make sure, given X circumstance, that we (as a party, as individuals, whatever) never do y."
    Maybe that's ridiculous. Also, maybe you're a ridiculous person to address that to.

    An aside, re: Ortho-Trots, once I was speaking on a Platypus Affiliated Society panel at QPIRG-McGill (with, funny enough, an RCP member), and a Spartacist League member showed up ALL THE WAY FROM TORONTO because he'd heard about it, and needed to tell us that we all had the wrong line on Quebec. To add some (further) irony to the mix, I'd actually been kicked out of the CPC as a teenager for having a line that wasn't very far off from the one he was toeing (though, thankfully, my politics have become more nuanced in the last decade). Anyway, thought you might appreciate that.

    1. Hello, thank-you for the comments. One of the best ways to make sense of what happened is to look for the analyses of organizations in the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement who were critiquing the CPN(Maoist), but initially in a comradely fashion, when they embarked on the parliamentary path. What most revolutionary organizations noted at the time was that it seemed as if the CPN(Maoist) was using the parliament as a strategy rather than a method and giving up the Peoples Army for seats in parliament. After the moment where the uprising in the cities failed, but the Peoples Army was still disarmed and overseen by the UN, most of the comradely critics of the CPN(Maoist) began to argue that the party's "right opportunist" line was in command.

      Actually, there is a lot in the maoist tradition about line struggle and how to assess what political line is in command. Those who argue for peaceful coexistence with capital, a slow transition, and want the people to disarm (like Bhattarai) are those who take the right opportunist line. Ironically Bhattarai's wife, Hisila Yami, wrote a lot about how to recognize the right opportunist line during line struggle––the main irony being that everything she wrote applied to the line she and her husband took but for some reason was incapable of recognizing the gap between theory and practice. The Kiran faction remained within the party for a long time because it felt that line struggle was important, but it was identifying the capitulationist tendencies as obvious that it saw them the moment the parliamentary road was taken (which is always a suspicious method).

      Obviously it is very difficult to know that, if given x circumstance we should not do y because even if we do know the xes and ys we often imagine they do not apply to us if we are committed to a political line. Hence the need for there always to be self-criticism and reflection. And yes, I probably am a ridiculous person to address this to since I am not someone engaged in a people's war in a place like Nepal.

  3. Hi JMP, regular reader of the blog. For a while I've just been a sort of traditional ML, but I became interested in MLM because on this blog you kept emphasizing that it is a relatively new development in Leninist science. I've read some basic materials on MLM such as Long Live MIM and the MIM studyguide put out by CPI-ML (now Maoist) in the 90s. Are there any other materials by MLM organizations that you recommend to enhance my understanding of MIM?

    Not to derail the discussion, but a question I've had is how central are notions like Social Imperialism to MIM? It's not that I think that the soviets did not develop neo-colonial relations (especially towards india and other semi-colonies led by reactionary states), but nonetheless I feel as if the fall of the Eastern bloc was not just the collapse of revisionism but the overthrow of any remaining vestiges of socialism as well.

    I have a hard time accepting that say, the partisans of the Sauer revolution in Afghanistan were just tools of Soviet social imperialism and revisionism. I think some Maoists went as far as to support the CIA backed mujahaddine.


    1. There are some materials put out by the organization I support, the PCR-RCP, on their website that examine specific areas of MLM. There is the "People's March" magazine (the unofficial public organ of the CPI(Maoist) that is available online). There is a wealth of information at (including all of the old A World To Win magazines, the RIM publication). When you say that the MLM study-guide of the CPI-ML do you mean the one by the People's War Group? Because if not, since the PWG also went on to help found the CPI(Maoist), they also have an MLM study guide worth looking at (again, available on

      As for Afghanistan. The claim that the the PDPA was a puppet government of Soviet Imperialism is not something I am going to argue about here because I think you can find the relevant documents, written by the organization that would become the Communist (Maoist) Party of Afghanistan, in the AWTW magazines I recommended on As for maoists supporting the CIA backed mujahadeen this is not precisely true. There was one organization, nominally an MZT group, that supported the CIA backed organizations, but that was a group that had already broken from the PYO, the anti-revisionist communist movement in Afghanistan, and was already seen as even more revisionist than the Soviets. This was the ALO [Afghanistan Liberation Organization], originally named RLGPA [Revolutionary Liberation Group of the Peoples of Afghanistan] and, again, was kicked out of the Shola Jawad organization started by the PYO for collaborating with reactionaries. Whereas the rest of the Shola Jawad group would go on to found the Communist Party of Afghanistan and then the Communist (Maoist) Party of Afghanistan, the ALO remains a revisionist organization that collaborates with Kharzai government: it is still seen as a revisionist organization and its largest front is RAWA.

      As for the rest of the maoists (or really anti-revisionist communists who followed the Chinese Path and were "maoists" only in that manner, as everyone else was at that time), they ended up trying to fight both the Islamists and the the PDPA and were temporarily crushed.

    2. Thanks for the reply JMP, I'll be sure to read the materials you've recommended when I get the chance.

      I believe the MLM study guide was put out by PWG, it's on (which is such an excellent resource) and published by new vista. I found it via an /r/communism post.

      Speaking of that study guide, it hits a lot of key dates that many historians seem to miss, such as 1830 as the beginning of the decline of bourgeois thought (especially in economics and philosophy) and 1976 as the key moment in the reversal of the communist movement and the expansion of the global market, it also sees the early 1970s as beginning a long crisis wave, hits a little on the forgotten crises of the 90s. The deep historical insight and the philosophical perspective of the pamphlet is what has led me to recently consider MLM as the third highest stage of Leninism.

      They also uphold Democratic Kampuchea under Pol Pot as a revolutionary bastion which was overthrown in 1979 (they hold that it was the last socialist base to be overthrown). Now I don't know much about Kampuchea other than what I've learned through anti-communist propaganda, given the horrors the US inflicted on all of indochina, I'm more than open to both criticism of Kampuchea and narratives which reverse common perceptions. Have later Maoist groups reversed their judgements on Kampuchea? And if so, why? Are there groups that uphold democratic kampuchea still?

      Did either period of socialism (both under Pol Pot and under the soviet aligned regime) leave a positive revolutionary legacy in Cambodia. From what cursory material I've read, Cambodia seems to be a country deeply shaped by the 1975 revolution. Their current prime minister has a glass eye he got from street fighting in Phnom Penh, though he and his party have rejected Marxist-leninism.

      As always, great blog.

    3. I disagree with the PWG's analysis of Cambodia, but I think that analysis was limited by the PWG's circumstances. I do not think the CPI(Maoist) holds this analysis. Again, I think the analysis of the Khmer Rouge given by "A World To Win", which has been posted so many times on /r/communism, is probably the best analysis and utterly different from the one given by the PWG. This was basically the RIM analysis, which is upheld by most maoist groups, and while it is still far more nuanced than a US anti-communist narrative, it is very critical of the Pol Pot regime.


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