The following is slightly modified from an email reply I gave to someone who wanted to know more about my views on communism and what I sometimes call “spirituality.”
I’m still doing research in Mao to find where in his concepts what I’ve sometimes called “spirituality” best plugs in. It may be important, ultimately, to decide not to call it “spirituality” and instead use terms like “wisdom” or “wisdom traditions.” But Mao is not someone who shies away from using concepts that have been inherited from pre-Marxist traditions to better help people grasp communist ideas, nor was Gonzalo–at all–and that’s what I think we can effectively do with these traditions. He is also not someone who shies away from using the concepts of “soul” and “spirit” as I’ll get into below.
What you talk about how watching “Yukong” is like seeing into the future, I think that’s what people have to see in us. It sounds like in Peru they had developed such a powerful new culture (where fascists could push people out of helicopters and the comrades would just yell, “Long live the people’s war!”) that I bet when people saw them for the first time, it was like nothing they had seen before. I think probably that was the same appeal as with the Panthers–black folks knew they needed a new answer to an old problem, and they saw in the Panthers an attitude befitting a new order, a new world. I honestly believe that if we’re doing this right, the accusations that we’re a cult will always be leveled, because in the end we are indeed asking people to make sacrifices that seem completely irrational according to the logic of the inherited, bourgeois world. But it will be wrong to call it a cult, because we are not being exploited by someone fooling us with metaphysics–it is only the masses who are gaining. We should consciously try to figure out how to create such an attitude within the culture we have inherited, in the same way that Gonzalo helped create one out of the existing “Peruvian reality.” It is a big part of what will help us keep fighting, a big part of what will attract the masses to the movement, and a big part of the new world we have to create.
For me the single best book that I am trying to bring into Mao is a book called Personality: The Art of Being and Becoming, by Inayat Khan, who was one of the biggest popularizers of Sufism in the West, about 100 years ago now. That book honestly reminds me of Mao; Khan (and I assume the broader Sufi tradition) had found precise (and I believe scientific) ways to discuss human psychology and how to make oneself a servant of the broad masses of the people. (For Khan, because humanity is most like God, to serve God best, we must serve the people). Here’s a copy of that book. I should say that it gets a little repetitive and more explicitly metaphysical toward the very end, but by then I would say that all of his science of wisdom was already delivered, and in less metaphysical ways. I think even the end is still worth reading as poetry, though.
There’s an anecdote at the start of that book that could be called problematic, but don’t let it deter you. The rest of the book really does capture what I’m talking about. It offers what I think are wholly scientific ways to think about transforming/rectifying oneself when one has strayed into what we would call a bourgeois stand, worldview, and/or method. For me the challenge is not whether these wisdom traditions fit, because I am certain they do–the only challenge, really, is finding the parts in Mao (and Gonzalo, who I know does discuss some of this stuff, but I haven’t read nearly enough of him) that the Khan can be “linguistico-conceptually” “plugged into.” Also, if you’ve seen my “Reminders” post, that is some stuff that covers some areas Khan doesn’t but is similar stuff: just useful ways of re-framing things for myself that help me take a more communist attitude toward things.
To get into the question of the word or idea of spirituality directly–the best way to put it is, as I write at the beginning of that “Reminders” post, there are wholly scientific ways to understand terms like “God” wherever you find that word in the works of “wise people” throughout history, and they can be boiled down to what Mao says: “Our God is none other than the masses of the … people.”
Here are some other quotes from Mao to sort of show show why I don’t think talking about spirituality and communism is outlandish.
First, here are some places Mao uses the word “soul.” Sometimes he means “the innermost part of one’s psychology”–the deepest, most sacred place inside of us. The thing inside of us that takes care of us even when we are deeply depressed. It is like a pilot light. I don’t think we need to be mystical about it at all, though. Like atoms, it is not something that is easy to see, or something we need to think about all the time, but assuredly understanding it scientifically will allow us to have great power over the world, including and especially over ourselves. The last one, about the cultural revolution, is especially verging on what I mean what I talk about being scientific about spirituality.
I also want to say that it is clear that for Mao the soul is not just “the animating thing in all of us,” as, e.g., the first quote makes clear. Which I think means that he thinks of the soul not only as the deepest part of the psychology, but something a little more. Not just the deepest part, but the deepest part when it is in service to our God–in service to the masses.
>> “As we said long ago, Chiang Kai-shek has lost his soul, is merely a corpse.”
>> “Many comrades concern themselves with studying the petty-bourgeois intellectuals … instead of guiding the intellectuals to join with them in getting closer to the masses. … Their innermost soul is still a kingdom of the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia. Thus they have not yet solved, or not yet clearly solved, the problem of “for whom?””
>> “If there is anything positive the Hu Feng clique can offer, it is that through the present soul-stirring struggle we shall raise our own political consciousness and sensitivity much higher”
>> “There are those who show no vigor and vitality in their expressions of opinion. The relationship between the lower echelon and the higher echelon is like that of a mouse when it sees a cat. It is as if their souls have been eaten away. Thus many dare not speak up.”
>> “Fascism has no soul, but we do.”
>> “The great proletarian Cultural Revolution is a revolution that touches the souls of the people.”
And here is Mao using the word “spirit” a few times. First, here is Mao defining “spirit” scientifically:
>> “Wherein lies the basic difference between idealism and materialism? It lies in the opposite answers given by the two to the fundamental question in philosophy, that of the relationship between spirit and matter ( that of the relationship between consciousness and existence). Idealism considers spirit (consciousness, concepts, the subject) as the source of all that exists on earth, and matter (nature and society, the object) as secondary and subordinate, Materialism recognizes the independent existence of matter as detached from spirit and considers spirit as secondary and subordinate..”
>> “What is philosophy? Philosophy is the theory of cognition, nothing else. I wrote the first ten articles of the Double Ten Articles [Shuang-shih T’iao], I discussed how substance changes into spirit and spirit into substance.”
Here he uses it in a way that is basically interchangeable with the word “attitude”:
>> “Comrade Bethune’s spirit, his utter devotion to others without any thought of self, was shown in his boundless sense of responsibility in his work and his boundless warm-heartedness towards all comrades and the people. Every Communist must learn from him. We must all learn the spirit of absolute selflessness from him. With this spirit everyone can be very useful to the people. A man’s ability may be great or small, but if he has this spirit, he is already nobleminded and pure, a man of moral integrity and above vulgar interests, a man who is of value to the people.”
>> “What kind of spirit is this that makes a foreigner selflessly adopt the cause of the Chinese people’s liberation as his own? It is the spirit of internationalism, the spirit of communism, from which every Chinese Communist must learn.”
He doesn’t always use it that way. He also uses it as follows, in a stand-alone way: Spirit in itself, vivaciousness. I think this is analogous to what he means when he says fascism has no soul–in this sense, it also has no spirit.
>> “We should allow the various localities to be full of creativity, spirit, and liveliness.”
And here he is talking about the science of changing the spirit:
>> “Those whose revolutionary will has been waning should have their spirits revived through rectification.”
But finally, I think there are kernels even in some of the deepest metaphysics. Check out this quote that I stole from some wise person somewhere and modified:
>> “One has to learn to reverse one’s usual way of viewing things. The human being is never the one who knows or wills or becomes, nor even the object seen or transformed; he/she can only lend him/herself to the divine action. “It is not by self-realization that one realizes God, it is by God-realization that one realizes self.” —That is, you can best transform yourself and overcome your narrow self-interests if you cultivate a habit of remembering that you are most when you are a servant to humanity, that you were made by humanity, and be grateful for what humanity has given to you by struggling for so long to create language and create proletarian theory—and that you are what you like least when you are gratifying your consumptive impulses.— One cannot satisfactorily improve one’s personality without calling into action all the dimensions of the web of reality.”
I think that what looks on the surface to be metaphysics here is actually possible to interpret in a useful, material way–as a way of framing.
Like, it isn’t that we should adopt some belief in certain new substances out in the world that we call “God,” but that we should adopt the spiritual traditions’ way of regarding oneself with regard to God. I think adopting that perspective makes it easier for one to transform oneself into a better communist. It is like the difference between talking about the sun rising vs. talking about the earth rotating–a way of seeing the substances that we already know about and accept the existence of, but in a new way. And I think adopting this inverted perspective promotes a communist outlook, and in fact is probably necessary to universalize as a key component of the communist superstructure.
EDIT 2017 04 20 2216 CDT: I didn’t think to look for the term “spiritual” before, so here’s some more Mao to consider, offered without analysis. I didn’t find any hits for “spirituality.”:
>> “For a very long period, U.S. imperialism laid greater stress than other imperialist countries on activities in the sphere of spiritual aggression, extending from religious to “philanthropic” and cultural undertakings.”
>> “The fundamental problems are: first, spiritual unification of officers and men within the army; second spiritual unification of the army and the people; of the army and the people; and, last, destruction of the unity of the enemy.”
>> “Apart from the role played by the Party, the reason why the Red Army has been able to carry on in spite of such poor material conditions and such frequent engagements is its practice of democracy. The officers do not beat the men; officers and men receive equal treatment, soldiers are free to hold meetings and to speak out; trivial formalities have been done away with; and the accounts are open for all to inspect. … The newly captured soldiers in particular feel that our army and the Kuomintang army are worlds apart. They feel spiritually liberated, even though material conditions in the Red Army are not equal to those in the White army. The very soldiers who had no courage in the White army yesterday are very brave in the Red Army today; such is the effect of democracy. The Red Army is like a furnace in which all captured soldiers are transmuted the moment they come over. In China the army needs democracy as much as the people do. Democracy in our army is an important weapon for undermining the feudal mercenary army.”
>> “There are right opportunists in the Central Committee. … I suspect that these people are opportunists who have sneaked into the Party. … During the period of the bourgeois democratic revolution, they gladly took part in it, and did have some revolutionary spirit. Yet on the method of revolution, they often made mistakes. They had no spiritual preparation for the socialist revolution. When the socialist revolution came, they began to feel uncomfortable. … So long as they are willing to wash their brains, there is still the possibility to win them over, because they posses the duplicity of being reactionary and revolutionary. … They should also be given the chance to make revolution and to work. Criticism should be strict, but treatment may be lenient.”
>> “Since they learned Marxism-Leninism, the Chinese people have ceased to be passive in spirit and gained the initiative. The period of modern world history in which the Chinese and Chinese culture were looked down upon should have ended from that moment. The great, victorious Chinese People’s War of Liberation and the great people’s revolution have rejuvenated and are rejuvenating the great culture of the Chinese people. In its spiritual aspect, this culture of the Chinese people already stands higher than any in the capitalist world. Take U.S. Secretary of State Acheson and his like, for instance. The level of their understanding of modern China and of the modern world is lower than that of an ordinary soldier of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.”
>> “Having cleared away blind faith, we no longer have any spiritual burdens. Buddhas are made several times life-size in order to frighten people. When heroes and warriors appear on the stage they are made to look quite unlike ordinary people. Stalin was that kind of a person. The Chinese people had got so used to being slaves that they seemed to want to go on. When Chinese artists painted pictures of me together with Stalin, they always made me a little bit shorter, thus blindly knuckling under to the moral pressure exerted by the Soviet Union at that time. Marxism-Leninism looks at everyone on equal terms, and all people should be treated as equals. … There are two kinds of cult of the individual. One is correct, such as that of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and the correct side of Stalin. These we ought to revere and continue to revere for ever. It would not do not to revere them. As they held truth in their hands, why should we not revere them? We believe in truth; truth is the reflection of objective existence. A squad should revere its squad leader, it would be quite wrong not to. Then there is the incorrect kind of cult of the individual in which there is no analysis, simply blind obedience. This is not right. Opposition to the cult of the individual may also have one of two aims: one is opposition to an incorrect cult, and the other is opposition to reverence for others and a desire for reverence for oneself. The question at issue is not whether or not there should be a cult of the individual, but rather whether or not the individual concerned represents the truth. If he does, then he should be revered. If truth is not present, even collective leadership will be no good.”
The general line of the cultural policy of the Soviets is to educate the broad masses in the spirit of communism, to subordinate education to the revolutionary war and the class struggle, to link labour with education. In the educational field the central tasks confronting the Soviets are the enforcement of compulsory education throughout the whole land, the development of social education on a wide scale, the rapid liquidation of illiteracy, the training of large numbers of cadres for revolution. All these tasks can be performed only under the Soviets because they signalize the sharpened class struggle and an unprecedented victory for spiritual emancipation.”
>> “The proletarian class in China … must adopt dialectic materialism as its spiritual weapon. … Dialectic materialism is especially a required subject of study for those cadres who direct revolutionary movements because subjectivism and mechanism, the two erroneous theories and working methods, often lead cadres into wrong actions in violation of Marxism, and into wrong ways in revolutionary movements. In order to avoid and to correct this shortcoming, it is necessary for cadres to study dialectic materialism self-consciously, and rearm their minds.”
https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/works/collected-works-pdf/volume6-part2.pdf (p. 195, which is p. 19 in the PDF)