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Response to Zak Brown: Without Revolutionary Strategy There Can Be No Revolutionary Movement

Recently, Zak Brown at wrote a response to my claim that Protracted Peoples War (PPW) should be understood as a universal revolutionary strategy, particularly focusing on the problematic of universality.  I am going to try to keep my response constrained and limited, but first some qualifications:

1) Brown's article is written as if, and this might not have been his intention, I am a theorist of PPW who has spent an inordinate amount of time putting forward this theory.  This assumption is inherent in his claim, near the end of the article, where he talks about "the concerted efforts of JMP and his immediate allies" as if I am leading some revolutionary movement and am its principal theorist.  I am not.  My comments about PPW (and they have generally been comments and reflections) have to do with philosophically thinking through the already existing theory of PPW as universal that is something I encountered, but did not write, and obviously found it convincing.  If he really does want to engage with the theory itself, he should not be citing what I have written on my blog (which is commentary on this theory that, at previous points, I have linked to), but on those articles that express the theory itself.  There was a response to this theory of PPW published on Kasama a while back, which was pretty horrid and I hope the PCR-RCP responds, but at least it realized that my articles were not expressions and elucidations of this theory.

2) Brown's article references only one of my articles that discusses PPW which is not, at least in my opinion, a very good article.  Honestly it was a rant about the lacuna of thought surrounding revolutionary strategy amongst marxists at the centres of capitalism that was expressing itself through the strategy to which I happen to adopt.  Moreover, it was a rant guided by a much more thorough and less polemical journal article I submitted three days earlier for publication (damn jury process takes month), as well as my annoyance about asinine comments on another blog post.  While I did set up an antimony between PPW and insurrection, I also wrote "this [article] is not a defense of PPW as a universal strategy, though it takes this position as a departure.  I am well aware that others, including some of my readers, may have thoughtful disagreements with this argument either because they subscribe to some version of insurrectionism or another theory of strategy. This is why I have not, at any point, attempted to defend PPW and explain its significance as I have in the past."  Thus, when I wrote within that article that there was nothing that actually provided any real defense of PPW or a proper explanation of its significance, it is somewhat confusing that Brown's critique of my position would focus solely on an article that cannot answer his questions.  And because it cannot answer them, this absence allows him to prove that my position is erroneous and find in it some "methodology".  Again, if he had focused instead on some of my other articles, and more importantly the theoretical work that claims PPW is universal itself (i.e. the work by the PCR-RCP, its forerunner Action Socialiste, as well as the nPCI), he would have a stronger critique.

With these qualifications in mind I will respond to the areas in Brown's critique that I think are worthy of some response.  Again, the fact that he is focusing on something that (as qualified above) was not meant to be rigorous defense of PPW is a serious problem, but there are some things he says that demand engagement.  Generally, and with all due respect to Brown (who has written some great articles that I have linked to in the past), I feel that this critique, though long, is hampered by a vagueness and impressionist interpretation of an already less-than-stellar blog entry (more of a rant) that seems designed to provoke debate that, beyond this response, I'm not really interested in having.  To be honest, I don't see why this critique even exists because, as noted above, it doesn't address any articles that are actually about the theory of PPW but instead expends a lot of space focusing on my style and perceived claims.  He can conclude that he has proven my methodology wrong, when there is nothing in his article that explains what my methodology is or where it is in the article in question except for his own thoughts about universality, that will be discussed below, justified by a Deleuze quote.

But okay, despite the difficulty of having to respond to a critique that is somewhat scattered (possibly due to the fact that it is responding to a quickly written rant that was even more scattered), I'm going to respond as best as I can.

1) Am I Closing Space for Dissent within Left Groups?

Brown claims that I am closing a space for dissent around strategy within left groups because I am actually arguing that "those who reject PPW as a strategy for revolution in North America, or as a universal strategy par excellence, are unfit to carry the banner of communism or [are] fearful of socialism."  While it is true that I argue that those who are unwilling to engage with the question of revolutionary strategy are unfit and/or fearful (hence my reference to the Derbent quote), as the quote above should demonstrate I am not arguing that those who differ when it comes to the theory of PPW belong in this category.  In the context of PPW, and in reference to the quotation he uses to make this hasty derivation, I was referring to the people who dismiss PPW without offering anything else in that insulting and rhetorical manner––the people who say "good luck with that" without understanding the theory––because I feel this attitude demonstrates a rejection of strategizing revolution.  The paragraph above talks about individuals who care little about any theory of strategy, the kind who pop into left spaces to troll in a particular manner.  Apparently it is "lashing out" to respond forcefully to this kind of attitude, but I'm sure that Zak Brown and other participants on would respond just as forcefully, and with as much legitimate disdain, to a trolling comment about third worldism that demonstrates something more (perhaps first world chauvinism, in this case) than just a difference in theoretical line.

With this in mind, Brown's statement about "closing space" is rather strange.  Although I agree that there are times when polemics do close down dialogue, for him to assume that I was doing this.  I'm closing space for those who are already hostile, or at least demarcating a line.  Moreover, I do not possess the power to close such space, unless he thinks that the space of my blog (that I close and open according to my politics) is somehow a significant political space that is the same as an organization where criticism/self-criticism does function between comrades.

Although Brown began his article by claiming that he wants to have a "civil" discussion, this seems designed to prevent a pointed response despite the fact that he has arguably violated the laws of civility with statements about how I "lash out", don't understand criticism/self-criticism, haven't thought about any of the things he brings up as counter-arguments, etc.  Hell, he basically implies that I misunderstand historical materialism.  This is as much a way of "closing space" as what he claims I am doing.  The thing is, if you are going to make a pointed comment about anything you are going to end up closing off areas necessarily, or at least demanding that they be closed.  Theoretical terrains develop in this way of closing, not that I have done a very good job of closing anything mind you, because certain spaces can and should be closed and no longer "open for debate" much in the same way that we should not go back to areas now understood as pseudo-science and say that these areas are open for debate.

2) Am I wrong about the refusal of strategy?

Brown claims, despite agreeing that the theory of insurrection is normative, that marxist groups at the centres of capitalism do talk about strategy and that I am wrong to claim that there is a refusal.  This is not the case; revolutionary strategy is the most under-theorized region of revolutionary communism at the global centres.  All you need to do is look at every group's program and attempt to locate where they talk about seizing state power and how it will be done strategically.  At best there are vague comments; at worse there is nothing.  Every single conference and book that claims to deal with the "Question of Strategy" (such as the edited volume by the Socialist Register, or countless marxist conferences I've attended) have treated this question as the question of organization.  Those papers in the academic sphere I have encountered that do try to talk about this are rare and unsatisfying because they end up reifying either insurrection or a vague movementism (such as D'arcy's theory of "a strategy of attrition").  Regroupment is often taken as a method of strategy, but again this is about organization––pulling people towards a communist pole, okay––and the question remains: what do we do with this organization?

Thus, when Brown's assertion that "those communists and anarchists (be they from whatever organization) influenced by insurrectionary theory are ultimately doing the same activities as those who criticize [insurrectionary theory]" is just dead wrong.  While there are obvious overlaps in our activities, they are also quite different in their aim and focus.  If I organize in a group that is dedicated to the theory of insurrection (and not in an unquestioned sense) than I begin with the assumption that I need to organize primarily within particular spaces of an already organized left and an already organized working class.  This is precisely the organizational thrust that limited the New Communist Movement in Canada and produced the internal collapse of organizations such as the Workers Communist Party (WCP) that was once quite large: its activities were economistic, it destroyed itself with where it focused its organizational activities precisely because of its theory of strategy.  Indeed, the reason why PPW was theorized the way it was in Canada is because of this experience.  In any case, one only needs to look at the activities and campaigns of the PCR-RCP's mass organizations, and how they are actually invested in a style and focus that is different from so many other groups, to recognize that a theory of strategy produces a different focus.  Its entire analysis of the Canadian "social formation" is affected by this strategy and vice-versa (i.e. a summary pamphlet the PCR-RCP recently produced, What Is "Canada"? links these things together).  And if its theory of strategy is incorrect, then it is probably the case that it might have chosen the wrong activities on which to focus.

With this in mind, Brown's comments about the ambiguity of the situation at the centres of capitalism seems more like a side point than anything else.  Everything he cites about a general opportunism is something we can agree on.  The difference, however, is that I happen to be part of a camp that feels the strategy of PPW, and an organizational form that is connected to this strategy, can better answer this general opportunism.  Most situations where the accumulation of forces is a necessary step are ambiguous and dynamic, but to claim this is also ambiguous.  I also feel that Canada possesses some very non-ambiguous aspects that are very concrete, and the aforementioned PCR-RCP document, as well as its older How We Intend To Fight, goes to great length to lay out a concrete analysis of a concrete situation.  Point being, sometimes what appears ambiguous is not as ambiguous as one might thing; sticking to the level of appearance, seeing only multiple trajectories and confusion, is what every marxist analysis has attempted to demystify.

3) Universality and Particularity

It is unclear to me whether or not Zak Brown understands how the concepts of universality and particularity have functioned within the theoretical terrain of historical materialism.  While it may be the case that I am wrong for assuming that PPW is universal, to dismiss my basis for making this claim as some form of religious thinking––and to partially justify this dismissal on a quote from Deleuze––is to step outside of historical materialism.  Indeed, the fact that Brown argues that my assertion of universality somehow ignores the fact of ruptures and exceptions demonstrates is shifting the argumentative landscape.  Something that is universal is always mediated by the particular, the exceptions in which universal is expressed, and so yes the norm is demonstrated through the exceptions.

Moreover, if he does want to claim that a dialectical approach is one that recognizes how "[s]hifts, moments, events, exceptions, […] are the pivots upon which history turns," and "[n]ot the modal consistency put forward in any given historical or theoretical continuity," then he also needs to recognize how this "theoretical continuity" is interrelated with this fact of rupture.  This cannot be done by only "highlight[ing] the inconsistency, the fragmented, the 'empty space' wherein history transpires" but in understanding that the openness to the future is not simply an "empty space"; it is informed by the possibilities of the present that themselves carry the weight of the past.  This sounds like a post-modern approach to history, or at the very least the "everything is rupture" position put forward by thinkers such as Badiou.  I happen to believe that history is not made as we please but according to the weight of all those dead generations, as Marx put it, and that this weight provides us with lessons and a universal truth process that is still in development because it is open to the future.

In those moments of possible rupture (are these "revolutionary situations"?) there are indeed multiple paths open to us.  But some of these paths are ones that, based on the universal concepts developed through the history of revolution, we should be able to predict.  What will happen if a revolution happens and there is no revolutionary party in command?  We receive the answer to this question time and time again, which has reinforced the fact that Lenin's theory of the party and the state are universal.  Although I agree that these universal concepts are often applied in a dogmatic manner without a recognition of particular concrete circumstances––that the continuity of the science is often held up without regard to the ruptures––I also feel that an approach that focuses only on particularities, ruptures, and contingencies is the antithesis of historical materialism.  And I think, if he really reflects on this, Zak would agree with me.  After all, there is a reason he calls himself a Marxist despite the fact that Marxism can be accused of being a particularity that should not be able to speak to our future, let alone to non-European contexts.  Mao, it needs to be said, did a good job of explaining the connection between universality and particularity in his "sinification of marxism" texts.

4) Universality of PPW?

As noted at the outset of this response, there is nothing in the article that Brown takes as authoritative that is actually about proving that PPW is universal.  While I do mention that I believe it is universal because I think x about revolutionary history, I do not go into significant detail.  Mainly this is because: a) I've explained why I think this elsewhere and don't like rewriting everything I've written in the past; b) it's not my theory to begin with and I don't like rewriting what others have written better than I.

When Brown claims, however, that there are clear differences between the revolutions in Russia and China, so that "neither were continuities of an existing universal notion" he is obviously met with an absence in the article he cites because it does not address this problem.  To be fair, in one sense he is correct: a universal notion does not pre-exist the revolutionary moment of continuity-rupture. As an historical materialist I do not believe that there are Platonic truths that have existed eternally waiting to be discovered (an error, I believe, that Badiou makes with his "communist hypothesis"), because truth is a process determined by an accumulation of universal notions.  In another sense, however, I think that Brown is wrong to assume that the theory of PPW-as-universal is something only gleaned from the Chinese Revolution because the Russian Revolution held that insurrectionism was universal.  Rather, I think the successes of a latter world historical revolution, when read back on former moments of world historical revolution, produce universalities in the past by explaining what could not have been explained at that historical conjuncture.

To understand what I mean, here, we only need to look at other aspects of revolutionary science that are considered "universal".  Take, for example, Lenin's theorization of the dictatorship of the proletariat in State and Revolution.  There is a reason that anti-Leninist Marxists are able to find a lot of evidence as to why Lenin's theory of the party and the dictatorship of the proletariat isn't "true Marxism" and that Lenin was a complete break with some authentic and "pure" marxism; they read those aspects of Marx and Engels that talk about state power and the dictatorship of the proletariat in a wholly different manner from the Leninist.  Indeed, it's not until the Russian Revolution, with Lenin as its principal theorist, that we have justification for arguing that the theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat is universal.  Now, all of those aspects that could not have been fully theorized (though they were theorized to some extent) in Marx and Engels about the dictatorship of the proletariat are given a different meaning because of Lenin.  On the one hand they were called into being by the Russian Revolution but, if history had taken a different turn, we might still be having a debate about these things (and to some extent we are, obviously, because people deny this universality as well); the continuity is grasped because of the rupture.

Thus, I do not think that the theory of insurrection is universal simply because Lenin assumed it was universal, but because Maoism produces this theory as a way of solving a problem that could not be solved by Leninism and that this theoretical solution can also make sense, and thus prove the particular aspects of its universality, in the way that it illuminates our revolutionary past.  As I have noted elsewhere, and following the nPCI, the theory of PPW explains the Russian Revolution better than the theory of insurrection. Here the argument is that there was an untheorized PPW that took place in Russia, beginning in 1905, where the insurrection was just part of a larger chain of revolutionary struggle.  Karl Liebknecht's Militarism, as I noted elsewhere, can be read, in light of the theory of PPW, as arguing that this was precisely the case: in 1906, examining the guerrilla struggles in Russia and without the benefit of 1917, Liebknecht argues that this revolutionary struggle might reveal something about the proletarian method of making revolution.  And what does he mean by a proletarian method of making revolution?  He is referring to Engels' document, Conditions and Prospects of a Holy War against the Holy Alliance Against France in 1852, where Engels claims that the "emancipation of the proletariat, too, will have its particular military expression, it will give rise to a specific, new method of warfare."

Following this, Brown attacks me for focusing only on the failures of insurrection and not PPW so as to make a claim for the universality of the latter.  In a certain sense he is correct, but not simply because of the failed German revolution: the argument, here, is that every single revolution following the October revolution that has faithfully followed the theory of insurrection was brutally crushed at the moment of insurrection.  While it is true that many PPWs have failed, he needs to be precise about the reason for their failure: the revolution in Peru did not fail because of its military strategy––indeed, as even the rightist Senderologists claim, it would have succeeded had it continued––but because the PCP splintered, with large parts of the organization acceding to the call for peace talks, due to the arrest of the central committee.  The PPW in Nepal completed its military aim of placing the Maoists in power, but the revolution failed because this party became opportunist and decided to end the PPW and instead collaborate with an imperialist peace process.  The failure of insurrections, however, is within the very theory of insurrection: they were crushed in the revolutionary moment, without even a chance of seizing power, precisely because their theory of revolution didn't work.

Furthermore, it is worthwhile also looking at the successes of a style of revolutionary warfare that is PPW in form but not in political content.  Innumerable partisan struggles that embedded themselves in the masses succeeded in maintaining a revolutionary impetus against overwhelming odds, failing only because of a lack of a clear, theoretically unified, and revolutionary leadership (one example is the Troubles in Ireland)––proving, of course, that PPW is also something that has to be organically connected to a revolutionary party.  We can even think of the Islamist struggles against US occupation in places like Afghanistan as being an example of an anti-communist PPW (the form, but not the content, of the theory) that are successful militarily, and have succeeded in rallying the masses who hate imperialism, but will be defeated because the politics of these forces are such that they will either alienate the masses or end up in the imperialist camp.  And, as aforementioned, we should also be able to read Peru and Nepal as proof of the validity of PPW because the failures of these revolutions was not about their military theory––that worked very well to put them in a position of power––but in the leadership, the two-line struggle within the party (also a Maoist theory), that ended these PPWs from within.

Of course, whether or not PPW is applicable to first world contexts is indeed the hinge upon which this debate swings.  Peru and Nepal were peripheral contexts and, within the worldwide Maoist movement, there is still the argument that insurrection applies to the centres whereas PPW applies to the peripheries.  But this is precisely why those of us who claim that PPW is universal speak of how the theory of insurrection has consistently demonstrated its failures at the imperialist centres, and often before the moment of insurrection!  For, as noted in the second section, the very approach to organizing that is premised on the theory of insurrection (enter the ranks of organized labour so as to produce the situation for insurrection) is often defeated very early on in this theoretical approach: economism prevails, those entering these spaces end up leaving the revolutionary organization because they receive well-paying and secure jobs, the workers they are organizing are not interested in revolution––are not the proletariat.

5) "Disqualification" from the revolutionary camp?

Brown seems to be upset by my claim that an organization's refusal to develop a general strategy of revolution "disqualifies" it from the revolutionary camp.  First of all, this is telling because Brown also claims that, contrary to my assertion, every communist and leftist is concerned with strategy in a way that I argued they were not.  But if this was the case, then he shouldn't be upset about my claim about "disqualification" because, according to his analysis, nobody would be disqualified.  My point was always that the rejection of revolutionary strategy was demonstrated by a refusal to produce a theory of overthrowing the state; Brown's semantic shift, here, just reveals that he wasn't being precise about what I meant by strategy in the first place. (Though again, to be fair, it is not as if the article he is relying on was very precise, either.)

Secondly, this is not my argument or claim but one that I was referencing.  Thus, Brown should send his complaints to T. Derbent, former urban guerrilla and theorist of revolutionary strategy, who is responsible for thinking through the various strategies of making revolution that have been employed throughout history.  Although most of his work is still only available in French (for example, the masterful Clausewitz and Giap), Kersplebedeb recently published a small pamphlet of his, Categories of Revolutionary Military Policy, wherein he makes the comment about disqualification that I will cite, for the interest of both Brown and my readers, in greater detail:
"Every social revolutionary project must think ahead to the question of armed confrontation with the forces of power and reaction. To put off making such a study because ‘the time is not right yet’ for armed confrontation, amounts to making choices… which risk, at that point when ‘the time will be right’ for armed confrontation, leaving the revolutionary forces powerless, vulnerable, with characteristics that will be totally inadequate. Choices which risk leaving them open to defeat. […] Organizations that claim to be revolutionary but which refuse to develop a military policy before the question of confrontation becomes a practical reality, disqualify themselves as revolutionary forces.  They are already acting as gravediggers of revolution, the quartermasters of stadiums and cemeteries."
Personally, I think this is a very important insight.  Derbent has done a good job of defending why this is the case and I urge Brown to read this text.  The overall point is that delaying the work required to think about what you need to do to make revolution until some future perfect scenario is strategically problematic.

6) Mass support?

I'm going to skip over many of Brown's speculations on how the specific tactics of PPW could be carried out in the first world because: a) I am not a theorist of PPW, but interested only in the reasons why it is generally a better alternative (and so also have similar interests in thinking through these particularities, which cannot be done on this blog); b) the Kasama article made similar points but did so by examining the actual PCR-RCP articles that talk in a little more detail about these things, so Brown's thoughts were less constrained by the actual theory (best to wait for a possible PCR-RCP reply, here), and he might have learned something by the past discussions on base areas that are connected to this previously existing theory; c) I don't think that a general strategic theory is proved wrong because of a discussion of tactics since neither Zak nor anyone who would be (unlike Zak) beholden to a theory of insurrection provides their tactical outline yet assumes they are correct; d) I think that the majority of tactical discussion, which a party leading such a PPW should be working out, is not something that such an organization would ever answer publicly for obvious reasons––it is like demanding that an organization reveal the specifics of its tactics to the state.

Brown's entire complaint about how a theory of PPW will not have mass support is contained in the question "[h]ow can PPW overcome overwhelming state repression?"  Now, while it is clear that he began his essay by not defining PPW according to the standard and erroneous tropes, this question seems to proceed from such an understanding. (Although, to be fair to Zak, he recognizes that this might be the case and is perhaps asking this question out of interest.)  This is because the theory of PPW is tendered because of the fact of overwhelming state repression.  In More on the Question of Waging Imperialist War in the Imperialist Countries, the PCR-RCP bases its defense of PPW on the rise of the modern, militarized state that is trained to put down insurrections.  The point, here, is that a protracted response embedded in the masses and everywhere in society is necessary.  That is, it is because of the fact of overwhelming repression and capitalist militarism that PPW is an important theory; this was precisely Liebknecht's point in Militarism when he traced the development of capitalist militarization, at his time not yet completed, and argued that the proletariat required a strategy that was capable of waging a dispersed guerrilla struggle, rather than direct head-on collisions, with such a force.

In this context, the question of mass support is not only pertinent but is part of what PPW is about.  The point is to build a dispersed counter-hegemony where the revolutionary forces legitimacy grows in power, from the early period of an accumulation of forces (that is also oriented towards PPW as a whole, and hence a refusal to focus on the style of work determined by the insurrectionist strategy, as discussed above), through every phase.  While Zak might be correct in disparaging the possibility of such a venture, no other revolutionary strategy can provide any answer to this question either.  At the very least, the theory of PPW's concentration on a dispersed and hydra-like method of warfare recognizes the hard work that needs to be done when making revolution.  (We can also cite Deleuze, along with Guattari, here: in 1000 Plateaus they speak of the difference between Go and chess, noting that the former is a superior strategic terrain due to its concentration on multiple positionings whereas the latter, determined only by direct lines of force, is entirely constrained.  PPW is to insurrection as Go is to chess.)

Brown's complaints about the conceivability of PPW in urban settings is easily dispelled by references to those non-revolutionary PPWs in form, discussed above, that proved the possibility of urban base areas despite the might of modern militarization.  The no-go zones during the Troubles, for example, were spaces in which the military and police would not go and the communities that controlled these zones were in complete control.  The problem with this example, though, is that the communities in control were not communist.  The point, however, is that such spaces can exist because they have existed.

His next complaint––how to fund a people's war––seems rather out of place.  He mentions China's war debt to the Soviet Union despite the fact that any cursory examination of the situation in China would demonstrate that the bulk of its revolutionary success had nothing to do with this debt; rather, this debt was accumulated due to Russia's intervention in WW2 against Japan in Mongolia, as well as the weaponry that was given to the Kuomintang forces by the Soviets.  The revolutionary forces during and after WW2 did not receive much support from the Soviets; they accumulated weaponry through the tactics that were determined by their PPW.  Similarly, the Peruvian and Nepalese PPWs accumulated weapons in a similar manner: by raiding the police, military, etc.  Although it is true that fighter jets and tanks cannot easily be accumulated, it is also true that the fact of PPW––as opposed to insurrection––is such that direct warfare against jets and tanks is less of a concern because of its dispersal throughout society in general.  Again, if we look at those examples of urban guerrilla warfare at the centres of capitalism that emerged during the days of the modernized military, it is clear that they were not easily rooted out by tanks and planes.  Indeed, the RAF survived well into the mid-1990s before shutting itself down; if it had possessed a PPW strategy that was interested in embedding itself in the masses rather than a simply urban guerrilla strategy what could it have accomplished?

The arguments Brown makes about state propaganda again simply prove why we need a strategy of PPW.  The building of counter-hegemony is part of this strategy, and part of this building is to undermine state propaganda.  In any case, this is a rather weak argument.  The state propaganda levelled against the peoples war in India is extremely significant, with modern communications apparatuses involved, but it is still being challenged.  By this logic, we should not talk openly about communism because state propaganda is such that it undermines all such attempts.

Finally, Brown makes some strange comments about how, if we want "mass support", we should participate in elections, and how mass support is a "political ritual" that ties the entire left together.  It is unclear why he thinks that the desire for mass support should translate into elections; large portions of the masses, at least in Canada, do not participate in elections––when you speak with them they explain why they don't participate––and the point of a revolutionary movement is to gain adherents to a revolutionary line, something that is not expressed in the electoral theatre.  None of the "marxist" groups that participate in the elections enjoy mass support for the same reason that the bourgeois parties do not enjoy mass support: because the entire process is seen, by a significant portion of the most disenfranchised, as a sham.  As for this "political ritual" business, again, demonstrates that while it is true that "we all want the same thing" it is not clear that this same thing can be accomplished by any group due to the disparate political/strategic lines that lead to different ways of working.  Here Brown sounds like a movementist, or at the very least someone arguing for refoundationalism.  Since I argued against these approaches in my book, I will not deal with this further here.  Yes we want mass support but how do we get it?  By going to the masses so as to accumulate revolutionary forces––and organizations that do not possess a strategy beyond normative insurrectionism do very little accumulation of people who are actually interested in revolution.

7) No alternatives

In the end Brown does not provide an alternative, but escapes from the burden of this question by shrugging it off: "I am not convinced that what we need is a buffet of competing strategies for readers to choose from like Wikipedia pages."  This isn't an argument; it's rhetoric.  The point is that being in a revolutionary organization requires the responsibility of thinking through the most important aspect of Marxism: making revolution.  Here, I'm not certain if Brown is being honest due to the fact that he is devoted to a site that, at least in the past, has pushed the strategy of global peoples war––which would be, at least to my mind, part of his "buffet of competing strategies."

More importantly, however, this statement about "competing strategies for readers to choose from" misses the point of why I care about revolutionary strategy to begin with––why it is even important.  It has nothing to do with online readers picking and choosing, or the already convinced left deciding what pet theory to adopt, but about an organization that is aimed at the masses who are not organized but who are potentially revolutionary giving these masses a strategic direction when they are accumulated into a revolutionary organization.  For those of us who uphold PPW as a strategy in an organizational context, we are not as much interested in proving its efficacy online as we are in applying it as the basis for our organizational activities.  Thus, it ultimately has nothing to do with competing strategies and, when it sometimes does, so what?  One hundred flowers, one hundred schools of thought!  I have never been opposed to the proliferation of competing strategic lines, as long as I can argue about their efficacy, just as I have never been opposed to the proliferation of various marxisms, as long as I can critique those that I find problematic––just as they do with my type of marxism.  I think it is actually a good thing for multiple marxisms to function in a given social context because I feel that the best of these marxisms will demonstrate its efficacy by actually organizing; honest marxists should be willing to liquidate themselves in those currents that fulfill the theoretical demands of revolutionary marxism.  If you think this is a problem, then you're probably too worried that your anti-capitalism brand lacks the strength of others… But sublimating this worry in a rejection of line struggle, an abstract complaint about "Wikipedia pages", generally leads to a refoundationalist way of seeing social reality––it's not very helpful.

Thus, when Brown argues that "building organizations with significant influence and activity, developing comprehensive demands, and developing that 'mass support' we mentioned" is more important that coming up with a revolutionary strategy, he misses the point entirely.  His assumption is that proponents of PPW think that we need to build the mass party before launching peoples war when, in actual fact, the strategy of PPW tells us how to build the mass party (and thus he again misses the point of the theory) and how this mass party should be orientated.  Otherwise, without a strategic orientation, where does one begin?  What are these "demands" that he thinks we need to develop and how are they operationalized?  These are questions that are delimited by the question of strategy, and this question should be considered of primary importance to anyone who wants to build a revolutionary movement because this is what marxism is about––making revolution.  So if you are not going to think through how to make revolution, and leave it to some future moment where you hope it will be spontaneously worked out, then you are not really thinking through the problematic presented by capitalism.  Hence T. Derbent's insistence on the necessity of this question.

In the end, Brown appears to be upset that Maoists "simply swallow" the universality of Protracted Peoples War so "that every contradiction, every success, every failure, and all surrounding questions are filtered through a preconceived dogma; the 'correctness' and 'universality' of their sacred strategy."  But who are these Maoists who are "simply swallowing" this dogma without critical reflection (which would mean it's not a dogma) since, at least to my mind, more marxists swallow the dogma of insurrectionism?  This is a rhetorical flourish, a poisoning of the well, that is about as useful as a Newtonian claiming that people "simply swallow" the theory of general relativity.  What dogma is being filtered, here?  Only the dogma of accepting a state of affairs where we don't have to think about what it means to make revolution and instead accept a situation where we just build organizations, if we are actually building them at all, without any strategic direction.

The irony is here: "[r]ather than see these things as they are, or at least in a creative light, the see them as continuities of an omnipotent system.  This creates a whole host of problems, only one of which is dogmatism."  Indeed: the "omnipotent system" of not having a general theory of strategy because of the assumption that the time is not yet right to embark on revolution.  The uncreativity of not figuring out how to orientate the masses towards revolution in your daily activites.  The dogmatism of seeing any challenge to the normative insurrectionism (even when you admit that it's normative, but hey repressive desublimation) as dogmatic.


  1. Thank you for your prompt and thorough response. Very interesting! I am excited to reflect upon your comments and respond at a later date. As you mentioned, I don't intend to drag out this discussion, but I feel as though there may be some usefulness left in hammering out some more discussion. Much respect, JMP, your thoughts are appreciated.

    - Zak B

    1. Hell, at least gave me a topic to write on. I just don't have the time and energy to come up with topics these days with work, organizational commitments, and childcare taking up all my time. In the future, though, if you really are planning to take on the PPW-as-universal theory, don't bother with me because it's just something I just gravitated to and didn't at all come up with. The kernel of the theory is in those old PCR-RCP articles, some stuff by the nPCI, and a whole smattering of RIM-affiliated stuff.

    2. I would like to perhaps correct two errors in this discussion, although there is a lot to be said about this matter and perhaps in the future I will do so: 1) no significant Maoist party today accepts the universality of people's war. Indeed, the CPI(Maoist), the CPP and the TKP/ML all are opposed to such a line and advocate a strategy of insurrection for advanced imperialist countries, and explicitly state that PPW is a strategy for revolution in semi-feudal semi-colonial countries. In the case of the CPI(Maoist) this is even enshrined in their party programme. The only significant party that ever accepted this line was the Communist Party of Peru and their supporters in the advanced imperialist countries. The burden of proof that PPW can in fact be applied to advanced imperialist countries lies solely on the capacity for parties in these very countries to achieve a revolution. Thus far, there is little evidence to prove its effectiveness.

      2) JMP says that whereas insurrections have always failed, he argues that one needs to look at the particularities of why PPW's failed, however could not the same be said of insurrections? I mean should we not perhaps consider that the Trotskyist uprising in Sri Lanka may have been successful if it had not been for an oppressive Sri Lankan government that was receiving arms from Mao's government? Also, besides the PPW in China I can think of no other successful PPW. Indeed, guerrilla wars in places like Vietnam and Angola had elements of PPW, but did not implement PPW per se, unless we consider that any form of rural guerrilla war with mass support and areas of control is de facto PPW. However, maybe there is one that I am forgetting? Maybe Eritrea? This is also the problem with the n(PCI)'s analysis re: the Russian revolution, and is likely one of the reasons that both Derbent and the PCR-RCP do not agree with their account.

      This then follows onto what JMP said about Peru and Nepal. Regarding Peru, I think its incorrect to suggest that had it continued it would have succeeded, indeed, the very fact that the war collapsed because of the arrest of its central committee demonstrates that they actually had not created the conditions for victory. The fact that the CPP could not provide for the security of its own leadership means that there was something seriously wrong. The same can go for the defection of a large section of the party to the peace accords. In part this was the failure of the jefatura line, but also had to do with how the party moved its entire CC to the cities etc.

      In the case of the PPW in Nepal had in fact not "completed its military aim of placing the Maoists in power", rather, the party entered into the peace process for the very reason that it could not win militarily at that juncture. Indeed, there had been an effective military stalemate with the party controlling the countryside, but unable to capture any major cities which had been reinforced by the RNA and Indian supplies (effectively negating a significant aspect of the encirclement tactic which is to starve the urban centres). Furthermore, the CPN(Maoist)'s urban forces, because of the PPW, had been crushed and forced into the countryside. Thus, at the time of the strategic offensive the CPN(Maoist) found that it could not capture the cities by the PLA nor did not it have the urban forces to carry out the last stage of the PPW which is in fact insurrection (this particular aspect of PPW is one of the key points of the open letter published by the Indians to the Nepalese). Rather, they tried to use Jan Andolan 2 and the next few years to reconstruct an urban party, but by then the war was over.

    3. Thank you for your response, though for someone who I know upholds PPW as possibly universal, this is a strange intervention. But here are my thoughts on your comments:

      1) I agree that the Maoists you mention believe that PPW only applies to the peripheries; I believe I eluded to this above when I recognized that the examples of PPW were in peripheral regions, though mainly I assumed it was an already agreed upon fact. It wasn't missing from the conversation anymore than other agreed upon facts are "missing". Perhaps my error was assuming that others already knew this, particularly due to the rejection of the PPW-as-universal.

      2) While I disagree with the nPCI's overall conceptualization about PPW, and Derbent's thoughts on their understanding, I think it is a mistake to not see that there was something more than just "insurrection" happening in the Russian Revolution. This is why I cited Liebknecht as opposed to the nPCI (though mentioning them, because they do make this argument) and it is a mistake not to see a process that, while not a clear example (not theorized, messy, determined by other factors of Russian society at the time) of PPW is closer to that conceptualization. Similarly, the theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat raised by Marx and Engels is not identical to that of Lenin's, or so pre-Leninist type Marxists are keen to remind us.

      3) While I am in agreement with what you say about the CPN(Maoist), I also think that the fact that they shut down the PPW also has to do with opportunism within the party. Moreover, I think your comment about Peru's CC precisely proves the point I made. As for your example about Sri Lanka, there are always exceptions to the general rule.

      4) I agree that the universality of PPW needs to be proved, the section about why some of us (including you) think that it might be universal was just intended to demonstrate the reasons why we think this, better expressed in documents I did not write or theorize, that I felt were missing from Brown's article.

    4. Oh, in regards to matters of strategy, whether insurrection or any other, I think that one a) has to have a very clear and honest balance-sheet of what has happened before and is happening now; and b) remember that at this point we are basically charting unchartered waters (to refer to an old RCP,USA pamphlet) and not assume that others are not thinking strategically as well. I do not think that the position is right, I think that its plausible, but am more than happy to grant the insurrectionists generosity in this regard. Indeed, my intervention, if strange, is simply because I felt that there was a slight skewing of the balance-sheet.

      1. Ok, didn't realise that was an open assumption. If that is the case, then fair enough.
      2. I think that we may differ in what we regard as the empirical facts about the order of events during the Russian revolution. To discuss this would take us far afield from the discussion at hand, but simply will say that I do not think that the Russian revolution resembles in any significant manner PPW. Indeed, I do think that there is an "October Road" which is sharply distinct from PPW.
      3. I agree that opportunism had a significant role in the shutting down of the people's war as a whole in Nepal, however, I do not agree with you that the fatal blow was the 2006 entry into the constituent assembly, or what you call "[collaboration] with an imperialist peace process." Indeed, not entering into the constituent assembly at the time would have been a mistake. Rather, the fatal blow was the manner in which it was done and this definitely was a result of opportunism and revisionism. Significant reversals in the manner of its application occurred, for example, the central leadership was not supposed to enter into the constituent assembly, but only a selected parliamentary fraction; the shutting down of the people's courts; the removal of the political commissars from the PLA etc.
      4. In the case of the PCP, again I think we likely disagree, I think that the military strategy that they employed like the concentric circles, militarisation, the rejection of any peace talks which itself was based on the theory of irreversability, their tactics of how to deal with progressive and democratic forces, the idea of jefatura etc were the weaknesses that caused the collapse of the organisation. These were are all questions of general and military line.
      5. In the cases of the the PCP and the CPN(Maoist), both organisations are inspirational inasmuch for what they that they were able to develop within the stage of strategic defensive and their capacity to pass to the stage of equilibrium, but think that their failure to go any further should give rise to serious questions. Indeed, even the letter from the CPI(Maoist) to the Milan conference in which they sum up the experience of the last few years demonstrates that the struggle there is very far away from any kind of strategic equilibrium, despite incredible efforts. And these are in states with far less developed central governments as those in the advanced imperialist countries.

      So I definitely think a lot more questions than answers exist.


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