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Straw Personing Maoism

 I was unaware of the existence of Renato Flores' article, Disarming the Magic Bullet, until recently, despite the fact that it was written over a year ago. This article purports to be a rejection of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism's status as the current stage of the science of revolution, being a response to a previous article by Cam W., and has a lot to say about what I've supposedly written about Maoism. I write "supposedly", here, because my biggest problem with this article is that, despite referencing my name and work at various points, it does not at any moment actually engage with what I have written. Rather, it seems to engage with an imaginary version of my work––what the author thinks I have written––and due to this kind of engagement ends up mobilizing a number of counter-arguments that either have nothing to do with what I have argued or were in fact counter-arguments I already considered. Flores' article also does the same with Ajith's work––though to a lesser extent because Ajith is barely referenced––and thus constructs a lovely straw-person of Maoism which can easily be knocked down.

To be clear, I have no problem with principled debate. Indeed, I count as comrades and fellow travellers organizers and theorists who disagree with my position but who have engaged honestly with it, in the interest of mutual respect. I have been part of such dialogues for years; everyone involved has learned a lot from each other and have benefitted from this kind of non-antagonistic line struggle. I know I'm never going to change the minds of some of these fellow travellers, nor are they going to change mine, but we have benefitted and grown in the process of this dialogue. As I have long maintained, it doesn't matter if someone in the imperialist metropoles accepts Maoism as correct when no Maoist party has succeeded in gaining organizational hegemony; at this point the debate is abstract. If there was a people's war being waged in my social context I would have a different opinion, but this is not the case: Maoism hasn't proved itself in the concrete situation wherein I organize and think. In the Philippines and India contexts this would be different since there are ongoing people's wars. Supposed revolutionaries in the Philippines who set themselves apart from the CPP/NPA should be treated with suspicion; largely they serve as pseudo-left factions that, by bleeding energy from a living revolution, are counter-insurgent in essence. But we are not in this situation in the imperialist metropoles, and Maoism still must prove itself.

All of this is to say, Flores' article is not a comradely intervention in this ongoing dialogue amongst organizers and theorists; it's an impoverished misrepresentation of the theoretical stakes. It is not interested in learning from the living theory of Maoism as it has developed in various people's wars, or in thinking its way through the philosophical justification of this theory, but enters the debate with a pre-conceived notion of Maoism that is already a distortion. I am disinterested in responding to Flores' claims since my work (and the work of others) have already responded, before Flores wrote this article, to most of these claims. I am not going to rewrite what myself and others have already written. Instead, because I despise lazy misrepresentation of thought, I am merely going to point out those points in this article where Flores was guilty of misrepresentation.

The first strange intervention that Flores makes is this rhetorical question: "why is Maoism the only ideology that can claim to have absorbed the knowledge of revolutionary theory?" And following this rhetorical question they write a long paragraph about other struggles that should be investigated:

The funny thing about this list is that nobody within the critical MLM tradition has ever argued that insights from these other movements should be ignored. Rather, the argument has been that they should be absorbed, critically, from the basis of MLM and that their limits can be judged according to this basis. The justification of this basis is something I outlined in Continuity and Rupture (i.e. the argument of world historical revolutions), and is not something Flores honestly engages with at any point. The overall point is not that these insights should be dismissed, or that we cannot learn from them, but that they can only be partially informative without the basis of revolutionary development that comes from world historical revolutions. And at the same time what is gleaned from these other movements can be absorbed by the unfolding of this theoretical terrain. For example, what happened to the ANC is predictable according to MLM. Also, as much as we should learn from aspects of the Zapatista experience, we also know that its refusal to take power at the end of the 1990s led to an entirely predictable situation. Indeed, I referenced this in The Communist Necessity, and the ways in which the Zapatista experience at that time played into movementist delirium, but this is something Flores apparently didn't read. In any case, in Continuity and Rupture I discussed the ways in which the large-scale development of revolutionary theory, in the world historical sense, also has to engage (and critically absorb) with these other tributaries.

The most amusing part of this article is that it replicates precisely a problem that I took seriously in Continuity and Rupture, that I expended nearly an entire chapter examining, and presumes such examination never happened. This is when Flores critiques the reference to the mass line in my book, about the party beginning with theory that it takes to the masses so as to learn from the masses. Flores' response to this simple formulation is that: "the party is seen as some sort of external agent, formed by intellectuals, who have acquired knowledge and will bring it to the masses. It sets the party aside, as the unique interpreter of Marxism, and the object through which the people's demands are translated to communist ones." In fact, the chapter they are examining is using this same critique they bring up as if it hasn't been brought up before to critique the traditional Marxist-Leninist party. My actual conceptualization of the mass line is a corrective to this formulation, not a justification of it, where I attempt to think through the way in which revolutionary theory has emerged because of the struggles of the masses, and that revolutionary intellectuals have also emerged from the masses. And while it is indeed the case that I end up "setting the party aside," I also argue that a revolutionary party is not actually an external agent divorced from the masses, as well as thinking through what it means to be a party that generates class politics. None of my arguments in this regard, let alone the impasse of the New Communist Movement regarding this question that I detailed, were even addressed. 

Flores writes: "A detailed study of the conditions of the people is a prerequisite of any revolutionary movement; just ask Lenin or Mao, but as with JMP, Cam grazes over the question of who the masses are that we are supposed to be interacting with in the United States." Here is yet another misrepresentation demonstrating that Flores hasn't read what I have written in this regard. A large part of my work has been dedicated to the necessity of social investigation, to the importance of "a concrete analysis of a concrete situation" and I have long held that this question of who the masses are is central to organizational work. It is either dishonest or lazy to presume I have "graz[ed] over" such a question when I have made this question central from even before I wrote Continuity and Rupture. It was the central question in my doctoral dissertation, it was a question repeated over an over on this blog, and it showed up in Continuity and Rupture and everything I have written to date. Flores' notes that the US is a settler-colonial social formation and that this is something my appeal to Maoism has overlooked. It hasn't: this has been one of my central concerns. It is why I gravitated to Maoism in the first place and why my organizational activity was with an organization that understood this point––but with Canada and not the US. How anyone could write such a passage about my work, without having read all the moments in said work that spoke about settler-capitalism and the way in which settlerism deforms working class movements, boggles the mind. It is sheer laziness.

I feel I should also note Flores' complete disregard for the work of Ajith (who, like other revolutionary theorists, I am indebted to because they are far more important than me), which of course is symptomatic of their ignorance of contemporary Maoism. (And if you are going to write an article denouncing contemporary Maoism's claims you should at least be aware of its internal debates and struggles.) Flores writes: "When the Indian Maoist Ajith wrote 'Against Avakianism', he was attempting to exclude Bob Avakian's Revolutionary Communist Party from the mantle of Maoism." This is in fact not at all what Ajith was doing with Against Avakianism; Flores completely misunderstands the debate in which that book was written. The fact is that Avakian's so-called "New Synthesis" was put forward as new theory because, according to the RCP-USA, MLM had become historically inadequate as they synthesis of revolutionary science. That is, the RCP-USA had already decided that they were not Maoists (hence their demolition of RIM and withdrawal of support from all other Maoist parties involved in People's War). Indeed, according to some former members of the RCP-USA, it might have been the case that the RCP-USA was never comfortable with the RIM statement that claimed Maoism was a "new stage" of revolutionary science; these cadre claim that they were grudgingly strong-armed into accepting it because of the influence of the PCP at the time, and were a minority dissenting voice in the RIM's "Long Live Marxism-Leninism-Maoism" statement. What Ajith was doing (and what others were also doing in their reponses to the "new synthesis") were arguing that Maoism was not historically archaic, that there was not evidence that it could and should be transgressed with the newer post-Maoist theory put forward by Avakian. Flores claim about Ajith's book is a bit like claiming that Engels wrote Anti-Duhring to exclude Duhring from the Communist International when in fact Duhring had intentionally excluded himself and was putting forward and alternate theory of socialist revolution. As an aside, if Flores was really interested in engaging with Maoism then they should have read Ajith's "On the Maoist Party" since it dealt with the same questions regarding the mass-line that Flores blithely passed over.

Perhaps the weirdest charge of this article is that my work is indebted to philosophical pragmatism. Flores writes: "JMP's style of Maoism is particularly well suited to the American mind. It provides relatively easy answers and provides enough silences that we can choose to interpret [it] in ways that are not dissonant with our previous mindset. JMP also borrows plenty of epistemological concepts from American Pragmatist philosophy, such as how truth is evaluated through practice, which makes it even more amenable to the underlying concept of science already present in US society." First of all, I am outside of the American mindset because I do not live in USAmerica. Secondly, there is nothing in my work that borrows from American Pragmatist philosophy and Flores provides no proof that this is the case. The only claim (and not an argument but merely an assertion) provided by Flores is that Mao's writings about practice are similar to the pragmatist position. I would argue that this is not the case, and that in fact the theory-practice dialectic is more complex in Mao's writing. Moreover, similar comments about how concrete analyses of concrete situations can and should be made through organizational practice can be found in Lenin, Marx, and others. Unless Flores provides an argument as to why pragmatism and Maoism have symmetrical conceptions of practice beyond the fact that they both talk about the importance of practice then their claim that I've been borrowing from American Pragmatist philosophy (when in fact I have been borrowing from Mao and the history of Marxist organizational literature) is sheer equivocation. After all, importance is placed on "practice" by Aristotle, the Empiricist tradition, and other philosophers and schools of philosophy, all of which do not necessarily agree.  I'm going to go out on a limb and assert that I probably know more about pragmatism and my relationship to it than Flores does, though they have made some weird guesses, because this is my area of expertise: funnily enough, my MA thesis was an attack on American pragmatism. There's also an interesting contradiction revealed by this criticism, and not the good dialectical kind: earlier Flores critiqued the Maoist use of the mass-line as being dismissive of the everyday practices of the masses, but here they are dismissing the appeal to the collective practices of the masses as being tantamount to the crude empiricism of philosophical pragmatism.

What Flores is trying to do, then, is translate my adoption of Mao's work regarding practice into some kind of USAmerican pragmatist vein––which I have not done––so they can easily dismiss claims I make about MLM and revolutionary science. It's something of a circumstantial ad hominem: JMP's conception of science seems related to pragmatist philosophy, pragmatist philosophy is erroneous, therefore JMP's conception of science must be erroneous. What are these "answers" and "silences" (their words) I have provided, though? What is "the underlying concept of science already present in US society?" Flores just says this shit, without any actual engagement with what I've written in this regard, and makes up my philosophical commitments. I am pretty sure I know a bit more about my philosophical commitments than Flores. Maybe they should have looked at my discussions on the meaning of science and historical materialism that I have been engaging with since Continuity and Rupture, which now I'm sure as shit they haven't read. Such as the essay trilogy I wrote for Abstrakt. Or maybe they should have read Demarcation and Demystification, before charging me with following pragmatism (a school of thought I have despised since my graduate school work against Dewey) based on a failure to read what I have actually written.

In the footnotes Flores writes: "those who claim Chairman Gonzalo synthesized Maoism reserve extreme rhetoric and violence for JMP, and go so far as to have disrupted his events." Yet another inaccuracy, a minor one in regards to theory but significant in that it demonstrates Flores' refusal to do any significant reading or thinking. Although it is true that the dogmatist wing of Maoism has weirdly fixated upon me, they have not yet disrupted any event with which I have been involved. The only disruption I have ever experienced was a book launch in Montreal and that had to do with a line struggle within the PCR-RCP. The side that carried out this disruption were not Gonzaloites (in fact, well before Flores wrote this essay their faction claimed that the "principally Maoist" trend was erroneous) but a faction within the organization that was dedicated to preserving transphobia. While it is indeed the case that US Gonzaloites sided with this faction of the PCR-RCP in the split, this was largely a marriage of convenience since the so-called "Continuators" were not interested in upholding "principally Maoism" but, for a brief period, were united with the US Gonzaloites in trashing Continuity and Rupture simply because I ended up on the other side of the line struggle. So though it is the case that Flores correctly notes that there are line struggles within Maoism, and this is indeed worth exploring, as with the line struggle around Avakian's "new synthesis", Flores doesn't really delve into this problematic. And it is a problematic worth delving into, as I did in Critique of Maoist Reason so as to indicate the heterogeneity within Maoism and issues that indeed needed to be worked out.

All in all, for an article purporting to "disarm" the supposed "magic bullet" of Maoism, Flores contributes nothing in the way of rigour, falling far short of the kind of "ruthless criticism" demanded by Marxist analysis. Misrepresentation of texts you claim to be critiquing, demonstrating an ignorance of the multiple theoretical debates within Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, and a complete lack of regard for the revolutionary theory and practice generated by revolutionary Maoists… All of these things do not result in a concrete analysis of a concrete situation, something that requires actually reading the source material you are claiming to critique rather than represent them through second and third hand sources, filling in the blanks as you go.