maybe one of the most important prerequisites to any discussion of Mao is to point out that much of what we are told about, say, Malcolm X, or the Black Panthers, by the white-supremacist capitalist education system, white-supremacist capitalist media, and the white-supremacist capitalist culture that pervades what is called the West is just total lies and propaganda.
so on that note, it’s important to bear in mind that, similarly, whatever your current conception of Mao, if all you have heard is that he and the Chinese Revolution were brutal and bloody and heartless, it’s important to investigate this from other sources that imperialists do not have full control over. there are lots of these if you like, but for the sake of this discussion, it will be enough if you’re willing to at least entertain the idea that there might have been lots more dope shit, and far less bad shit, going on under Mao than we’re taught. suffice it to say that either you have the chauvinist belief that hundreds of millions of Chinese people were brainwashed, or you accept that Mao and the Chinese Communist Party were doing a lot of things right.
CONCRETE THEORY ABOUT HOW TO “DO COMMUNISM”: THE MASS LINE
– I think one of the most important contributions of Maoism over previous Marxist tendencies is that it offers a specific mechanism for “doing communism” in an area: what is called the “mass line.”
How do you make more communists? How do you turn the working class and other oppressed groups into communists? What is the method by which communists can successfully provide leadership?
Is it enough to just sort of fan the ideas of communism in their direction? To put a newspaper in their hands and hope they read it, as my first “communist” organization, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) had us doing? It hasn’t helped the ISO grow in decades.
So how do you do it? You recognize that capitalism-imperialism causes concrete forms and experiences of suffering and oppression in each area, and that it will vary from area to area. So the people in each particular area want solutions to those particular problems, but only communism can fully solve those problems, so here’s what the communist collective in each area does:
First, it gathers the ideas of the masses. It figures out (a) what particular problems they most want to solve, and even more importantly (b) what they understand to be the root cause of those particular problems, (c) how they believe those particular problems can best be addressed by collective action in the community, and (d) why they believe those problems will be best solved by those methods.
So then, second, the communists take these ideas about what the problems are and what the masses believe should be done about it and why, and they analyze them with communist theory:
There will be three groups:
A small group of “backwards,” a larger group of “intermediates,” and a small group of “advanceds”. What is this a measurement of? Two combined things: revolutionary consciousness and commitment to revolution.
So you take the ideas of the most advanced in the area you’re working in and sharpen them, retaining their essence but amplifying their revolutionary content into (a) slogans that are sharpened forms of the concepts they themselves have spoken to you in and (b) a campaign based around their ideas for how to accomplish the task at hand. e.g., if they say the rent is too high and they mention that everybody’s suffering from it, we may decide to say, “you’re right, let’s turn our collective suffering into a collective strength by forming a tenant’s union and going on a rent strike,” also pointing out in the terms they use how landlords try to get as high of rent as possible, and how the whole government colludes with them to keep them able to collect rent, and that the cops work with the landlords, etc.
You then present this campaign and slogans back to the advanced. and if you’ve done your work right, the advanced will love this campaign that is very much from their own ideas, and they will rally a large section of the intermediates (who are their friends and family and co-workers) to the campaign as well.
if you do your campaign right, some of the advanced will become communists, some of the intermediates will become advanced, and some of the backwards will have become intermediates; and hopefully any enemies living among the people (e.g., committed white supremacists, pimps, and anyone else committed to making a living by preying on the masses) will be more isolated and less able to harm the masses.
then you repeat and repeat, the more communists you recruit, the more of the population you can “mass line” with. the more of the population you can “mass line” with, the more communists you can recruit, and so on.
this is the method the bolsheviks used for the most part, but it wasn’t really theorized. Mao systematized and theorized it, and now groups all over the world use it.
MAOISM HAS THE GREATEST SUCCESS WORLDWIDE
the most successful communist revolutions in the world right now are all Marxist-Leninist-Maoist revolutions. the revolution in the Philippines is such a massive force in the country that the government recently unilaterally declared a ceasefire for a little while.
additionally, the most theoretically advanced and sharpest revolution in the world, the people’s war in India, is also steadily gaining ground. if you look at the maps, it’s important to understand that they’ve recently pivoted toward the cities to better take advantage of the trend of the increasing importance of cities in that country’s economy, not suffered some great defeat.
there’s also the fact that the one of the most advanced communist movements in a part of the world that resembles OUR situation, the DHKP-C in Istanbul, is heavily inspired by Mao, very much engaged in the methods of meeting material needs while conducting political education, which has helped them produce areas in urban neighborhoods where the cops and soldiers fear to go, to steadily expand outward from.
MAOISM HAS THE GREATEST LEGACY OF RECENT SUCCESS IN THE UNITED STATES
without question the single most successful communist organizations in modern times in the united states were the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords, and other groups like them, in addition to the groups of the New Communist Movement such as the Revolutionary Union. they were all either explicitly Maoist or heavily inspired by Mao; you probably know that the BPP read and sold Quotations from Chairman Mao.
but even more important than that, they ran the mass line, or something much like it. the BPP met the masses’ basic needs (using “Serve the People” programs after a slogan from revolutionary China), which provided a point of contact at which to politicize the masses and bring them in. and it worked—they and the other groups grew very quickly, in large part because they used this method.
HOW DO YOU KEEP YOUR SOCIALISM? CULTURAL REVOLUTION
the Chinese revolutionary experience also answers a very important question that has rightly and worriedly been raised by many different communist tendencies and non-communists who learned about the ideas of Marxism-Leninism: how do you keep your centralized power apparatus from turning on the people?
in China, although it came too late, they realized the solution: indeed, as many have supposed, a new bourgeoisie does constantly arise within the communist party under socialism. however, it does not arise equally and uniformly—some individuals will become corrupted, others will not.
what is the answer? Maoism holds that “the people, and the people alone, are the motive force in the making of world history” and that “the masses are the real heroes, while we ourselves are often childish and ignorant.” the masses know what’s up, they can tell when someone in the party or other position of power is getting corrupted or capitalist-minded, wanting to use their power to serve themselves instead of serving the people.
so the solution is the cultural revolution: call upon the masses to “bombard the headquarters,” pulling out and denouncing all corrupt party members and other people in authority, as well as criticizing all aspects of culture that these authorities use to try to legitimize their corrupt power.
Maoism recognizes that the state isn’t actually exactly going to wither away on its own; you have to help the process along. since the idea of the end goal of communism, to be achieved through a transitional socialist period, is that you don’t need a state anymore because the masses themselves have assumed all the tasks of the state and exercise them collectively, cultural revolution is a way of fostering that process by encouraging the masses to take initiative and become emboldened to start running society themselves directly to an ever growing extent.
a state is still necessary during this time, and will be necessary until (a) all the rest of the countries of the world have gone socialist and no longer pose an external threat and (b) the internal economy and culture have been so transformed that “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need” is a realistic material possibility, and is something that will actually happen. once that occurs, you have one final cultural revolution that abolishes the state for good, and communism is achieved, and the masses run society directly. no other method will get us there but cultural revolution. but you need the state to stay purely proletarian up to that point, and cultural revolution is the process by which the masses purge it of bourgeois elements and keep it the *people’s* party.
A GENUINELY VIABLE STRATEGY FOR ACHIEVING POWER: PROTRACTED PEOPLE’S WAR
finally, Maoism offers the communist movement a systematized political-military strategy for achieving power for the working class far superior to any other ever developed. the Bolshevik method was a successful one for their time, but all attempts to duplicate it have led to failure and massive, crushing reaction.
the Maoist strategy, which MLMs hold is universal to all countries, recommends a different strategy from the Bolshevik method of insurrection.
instead of staying mostly legal until one glorious lucky moment when you risk it all, instead we do it slow and steady. it has three, you might say four stages.
first, build forces. serve the people. win their hearts. live among and merge with them. this stage has many legal components, and it can happen in regions instead of across the whole country.
second, once you have support among people who love and trust the communists and offer them support, the movement begins a guerrilla warfare strategy. the guerrillas can “swim through the masses like the fish through the sea,” using 10-on-1 ambush tactics to slowly weaken the state, steal their arms and resources both for the party and to serve the people with, train your soldiers, kill enemies of the people (e.g., fascists, particularly corrupt and vicious police, violent criminals who prey on the people) as a way to serve the people and win their hearts and trust, and inspire the people to join.
third, this leads to a time when there are “base areas,” where the communists have power and the cops and soldiers fear to go. here you can begin outright building the embryo of socialist society, and using these areas to produce resources that strengthen the movement and politicize the masses and spread the revolution to other parts of the country. the tactics remain guerrilla tactics, but they are many more attacks than there were before, and the sheer number of such attacks is creating a pressure on the state that the pinpricks from the previous stage could not.
finally, once there are enough base areas, you start taking whole cities in a more conventional fashion, first starting with the small ones, then moving to the large ones. once you have those, you can surround the main cities and bring to bear a whole country’s worth of resources on the holdouts.
this is how you turn a country socialist in our day and age. this is what is happening in the philippines and in india, and it damn near happened in peru in the 90s, is about to start happening again in nepal after it stopped in 2006, and is going to also start up in Afghanistan before long, too. and something much like this is also happening in Turkey right now. people all over the world are working on getting this strategy up and running in their countries.
other important aspects of protracted people’s war
* the weapon of the people is the people’s army. the people’s army is an army of a new type, because (a) it is not like an imperialist army where they go among the masses and leech off of them; instead, it is a toiling/producing army and actually goes out in the field and participates in productive labor to help the people eat, and to support themselves; (b) it is a politicizing army, constantly learning from the masses and teaching them to help them more sharply understand the mechanism of their specific exploitation and oppression and realize the necessity of revolution in fully resolving it, and so on.
* the “united front” is a strategy that recognizes that not everyone who can and will work to bring the government down needs to be a communist or a Maoist. the united front is a vast movement, much bigger than the party but guided by the party, that consists of mass organizations that the communists control or which are allied to the communists without necessarily being run by them. this recognizes that, for instance, the petty bourgeoisie, who are a huge group in the united states, might not have the same class interests as the proletariat, so they can’t LEAD the revolution, but many of them will *support it* because hey, they recognize that we live in a sham democracy and they want to live in a real democracy where they will have a meaningful voice, and also where crime and other ills of society have disappeared because people are truly taken care of. and after all, the petty bourgeoisie are still being oppressed by the big, monopoly capitalists. so you win over and provide revolutionary guidance to sections of all the groups that may not be proletarian but still have an interest in revolution.
* as i sort of mentioned in passing above, the enemy can’t defeat PPW militarily. the soldiers are one with the people. and the capitalist-imperialists cannot kill the soldiers without killing all the people. and they can’t kill all the people, because then there would be no one to keep producing for them. so they’re stuck—they cannot actually kill the militants more often than the militants kill them. in this way, the militants can slowly accrue guns, and experience, and leech the enemy’s resources to build their movement and serve the people, and bleed the imperialists, coming out when they are sure to win and never attacking otherwise. this is how the Chinese communists took down a numerically larger and better-armed force. a similar method is how an outnumbered and outgunned Vietnam drove out the u.s. it is how communists damn near toppled the capitalist governments in Peru and in Nepal, how they are growing quite close to toppling the capitalist government of the Philippines, and why they have survived over the decades and are a large and growing phenomenon in India, starting from a very small number.
* the old, Bolshevik strategy (insurrection) requires waiting for the exact right moment and risks it all. one of the premises of insurrection is correct insofar as it says that there will be crises in capitalism—there definitely always are. however, the insurrectionary strategy is foolish insofar as it says “wait with a bunch of untested ‘soldiers’ for the exact right moment, then entirely play your hand.” this strategy has failed again and again after its first success in 1917. meanwhile, if instead you have a live, active, fully-trained and fully-committed core of communists ready at every moment, then when each crisis comes, they can fan out, make maximum use of the crisis, and then return to their regular strategy once the crisis moment has receded. in this way, the crises are still used and territory is still gained, but the risks are very low compared to the rewards. lasting through time, you can learn over many crises how to “ride the wave” of them, and your timing will get better and better, and you know you will survive even if you don’t make good use of a crisis, instead of risking everything on a moment you aren’t even prepared for, as is called for by insurrection.
that is dope! what next?
If you feel like you need a little more clarity on some of the things in this post, check out “How to learn everything a communist ought to know, from the beginning.”
For a deeper but still very accessible statement of what Marxism-Leninism-Maoism looks like, check out the General Political Line of the Communist Party of Peru.
If you want to know how to start doing Maoist organizing, check out Red Guards Austin’s position paper “Condemned to Win.”
If you like what RGA suggests as far as undertaking Maoist organizing and need at least two more MLM comrades to found a Maoist collective with, check out “Some suggestions on how to help others in your area become Marxist-Leninist-Maoist organizers.”