Mao’s rebuttal of identity reductionism: Why it is not only acceptable but absolutely necessary that communists of all class backgrounds go among the working class

Down below is a quotation from the RCP’s 1979 “Beat Back the Dogmato-Revisionist Attack on Mao Tsetung Thought: Comments on Enver Hoxha’s Imperialism and the Revolution.

While the RCP’s book was overall intended to show the hollowness and ridiculousness of the Albanian revisionists’ criticisms of Mao Zedong Thought, the passage quoted here is hot fire against any self-identified communists wielding what amounts to identity reductionism to try to argue that middle-class people who have become genuine communists must stay out of working-class neighborhoods.

The opposite, Mao’s position was that the communist movement can and should wield whoever is a genuine communist at the moment, regardless of their class background, to spread communism to the working class. Another important question that is answered here is about what determines whether or not a specific struggle is being led by the working class. What determines that is not whether the struggle goes exactly where the majority of workers in an area say it must go, but rather whether the struggle is guided by the line of the global proletariat–in this day, by Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. And the revolutionary proletarian line says that in fact the exact right thing for intellectuals to do is to go among the working class and seek to help in the process of the construction of a revolutionary communist party out of the working-class masses.

Overall, what is the Maoist position? Don’t wait for purity; don’t fret about “appropriateness,” which can be nothing other than metaphysics, not Marxism–do what is best for the global communist movement. While understanding the contradictions within and limitations of each class force, nonetheless use every asset at your disposal to push the revolution forward as best you can. All bold below is mine.

Like any revolution, the Cultural Revolution could only advance through turbulent struggle. It could not but have counter-currents within it and involve different sections of the revolutionary masses who brought into the struggle their own prejudices and limitations and, at times, contradictory outlooks and programs. And, like any revolution, it could not help but be met by fierce and stubborn resistance–not only from the targets of the revolution who represented only a very small percentage of Chinese society and of the Party–but also from among sections of the masses themselves, including even many workers, who could be mobilized to one degree or another and at certain junctures as part of the social base and the social movement of the reactionaries. This is not simply a feature of the Cultural Revolution, it is a law of class struggle, of revolution in general. Here it might be helpful to recall Lenin’s famous comment on the Easter Rebellion of the Irish people in 1916, directed at those who tried to use “Marxism” to ridicule, downplay and slander that heroic uprising as a “putsch” and by so doing ended in objective unity with the imperialist bourgeoisie.

“The term “putsch,” in its scientific sense, may be employed only when the attempt at insurrection has revealed nothing but a circle of conspirators or stupid maniacs, and has aroused no sympathy among the masses. The centuries-old Irish national movement, having passed through various stages and combinations of class interest, manifested itself, in particular, in a mass Irish National Congress in America. . which called for Irish independence; it also manifested itself in street fighting conducted by section of the urban petty bourgeoisie and a section of the workers after a long period of mass agitation, demonstrations, suppression of newspapers, etc. Whoever calls such a rebellion a “putsch” is either a hardened reactionary, or a doctrinaire hopelessly incapable of envisaging a social revolution as a living phenomenon.

To imagine that social revolution is conceivable without revolts by small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without revolutionary outbursts by a section of the petty bourgeoisie with all its prejudices, without a movement of the politically non-conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against oppression by the landowners, the church, and the monarchy, against national oppression, etc.–to imagine all this is to repudiate social revolution. So one army lines up in one place and says, “We are for socialism”, and another, somewhere else and says, “We are for imperialism”, and that will be a social revolution! Only those who hold such a ridiculously pedantic view could vilify the Irish rebellion by calling it a “putsch”.

Whoever expects a “pure” social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip-service to revolution without understanding what revolution is.”

. . .

Hoxha condemns the Cultural Revolution because ”millions of unorganized youth, students and pupils” rose to their feet and marched on Peking. The theoretical basis for this “error,” according to Hoxha, is found in Mao’s famous work “Orientation of the Youth Movement,” where Mao has the audacity to say that “in a way” Chinese youth began to play a vanguard role, which he defines as ”taking the lead and marching in the forefront of the revolutionary ranks.”

Again, we will have to agree with Mao and not with Hoxha. First of all, it is a fact, undeniable by anyone with the slightest concern for historical accuracy, that Chinese youth did “in a way” play a vanguard role in the May 4th Movement in China and subsequently. It is equally undeniable that this historical experience, of youth “taking the lead,” of “marching in the forefront of the revolutionary ranks” has been repeated numerous times and throughout history. Today we see this before our very eyes in Iran, where the youth, including the students and young intellectuals, have stood in the forefront of that mighty movement, helping to arouse the broad masses of the Iranian proletariat and people, and sacrificing their lives in the armed struggle. Indeed, it is difficult to comprehend any truly great and profound revolutionary process in which this wasn’t true to a large degree.

But for Hoxha, the dynamic role of youth–their daring, their desire to destroy the old world, and so on–is really more of a liability than an asset, something to be attacked and stifled unless it can be “led” (by which he really means controlled) by the working class and its party. . . .

What does it mean for the working class and its party to “lead” the youth? According to Hoxha it means that the youth should trail passively at the rear of the working class, and heaven forbid the thought that the youth might themselves have a kind of vanguard, that is leading, role to play in mobilizing and organizing the broad ranks of the people.

Mao is, of course, quite clear that in an overall sense it is the working class that must provide leadership in the revolution. In the companion article to the one Hoxha quotes,  Mao makes quite clear the basic class relationships:

“China’s democratic revolution depends on definite social forces for its accomplishment. These social forces are the working class, the peasantry, the intelligentsia and the progressive section of the bourgeoisie, . . . with the workers and peasants as the basic revolutionary forces and the workers as the class which leads the revolution. It is impossible to accomplish the anti-imperialist and anti-feudal democratic revolution without these basic revolutionary forces and without the leadership of the working class. ”

But it is at this point that Mao and Hoxha part company. For once it is agreed upon that there must be the “leadership of the working class” (and this can only mean, first and foremost, the leadership of the working class party and of the working class line, Marxism-Leninism), the question remains, what is the content of this leadership, what does it seek to accomplish, along what lines does it steer the youth?

The whole content of Mao’s article, “The Orientation of the Youth Movement” (as its title implies), which Hoxha “quotes,” is exactly designed to provide leadership, an orientation, for the youth:

“Our young intellectuals and students must go among the workers and peasants, who make up 90% of the population, and mobilize and organize them. Without this main force of workers and peasants, we cannot win the fight against imperialism and feudalism, we cannot win it by relying only on the contingent of young intellectuals and students. Therefore, the young intellectuals and students throughout the country must unite with the broad masses of workers and peasants and become one with them, and only then can a mighty force be created.”

Mao noted that “In the Chinese democratic revolutionary movement, it was the intellectuals who were the first to awaken. . . . But the intellectuals will accomplish nothing if they fail to integrate themselves with the workers and peasants.”  Here Mao is making clear the correct, dialectical view of the relationship between the fact that the intellectuals, particularly the students, are often the first force in a given revolutionary movement to rise in struggle–and play a vital role in helping to “mobilize and organize” the masses of people–and the fact that it is only by integrating with the workers and peasants that the intellectuals can make a real contribution to the revolutionary process. And, as he points out repeatedly in his writings, it is only by doing so that the youth can be transformed in their world outlook and become genuine Marxists.

This is an example of real leadership. Not Enver Hoxha’s concept of strait-jacketing the youth movement and having it march obediently one step behind the workers. Real Marxist-Leninist leadership in the revolution means knowing how to bring to the fore and unleash the factors for revolution and at the same time provide guidance and a correct orientation for the movement overall and its particular parts. Real leadership does not mean ignoring or trying to eliminate the contradictions between (and hence the different contradictory roles of) different sections of the masses, but recognizing and utilizing these contradictions to push the revolution forward. Enver Hoxha’s concept smacks much more of the “everything at my command, everything at my disposal” concept of Lin Piao than of the Marxist method of leadership shown by Mao.

Only a person hopelessly entangled in the outlook that Lenin described, of waiting for the two armies to appear ready-made, packaged and neatly labeled, would be capable of criticizing Mao for recognizing and utilizing the fact that very often in the revolutionary struggle youth will play a kind of vanguard role. And only someone who is determined that a revolution will never come about, or at least who has no conception of what a revolution is, would want to avoid mobilizing sections of the revolutionary masses and sections of the workers themselves before the day when the workers as single, monolithic and united whole rise up (a day which, in that sense, will never come in reality). For there will never be a time, as long as there are classes, when workers aren’t divided into sections holding revolutionary, non-revolutionary and even counter-revolutionary sentiments and lines. And these divisions will lead to conflicts (ideological, political and, yes, even physical conflicts at times) between sections of the workers and other sections of the revolutionary masses.

It was this understanding that enabled Mao, at the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution, to rely heavily on the initiative and the daring of the youth and the students–not as a substitute for the working class, but to help awaken and mobilize the working class in this great battle. Hoxha should be familiar with Mao’s understanding of this, since Mao spelled it out quite succinctly to a visiting delegation from Albania in 1967:

“The “May 4th” Movement was launched by the intellectuals, thereby fully demonstrating their foresight and awareness. However, we must depend on the masters of the time, the workers, peasants and soldiers, to serve as the main force in carrying through thoroughgoing revolutions on the order of a real Northern Expedition or Long March. . . . Although it was the intellectuals and the broad masses of young students who launched the criticism of the bourgeois reactionary line, it was, nonetheless, incumbent upon the masters of the time, the broad masses of workers, peasants and soldiers, to serve as the main force in carrying the revolution through to completion, . . . Intellectuals have always been quick in altering their perception of things, but, because of the limitations of their instincts, and because they lack a thorough revolutionary character, they are sometimes opportunistic.”

Thus it is clear that in theory (as well as in practice) Mao regarded the role of the students in China as mainly an initiating one. He fully recognized their weaknesses–especially their tendencies toward anarchism, ultra-“leftism,” but also toward conservatism at times–and their problems in uniting the revolutionary ranks to carry the struggle through to victory. Without the initial role of the students, especially the heroic Red Guards, revisionism would have triumphed much sooner in China and the Cultural Revolution would never have gotten off the ground.