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You are here: Platypus /Book Review: Josh Moufawad-Paul, Continuity and Rupture: Philosophy in the Maoist Terrain

Book Review: Josh Moufawad-Paul, Continuity and Rupture: Philosophy in the Maoist Terrain

Uriah Marc Todoroff

Platypus Review 101 | November 2017

Alresford: Zero Books (2016).

IN HIS LATEST BOOK Continuity and Rupture (2016), professor of philosophy at York University Josh Moufawad-Paul argues that the science of revolution has undergone a qualitative change in its epistemological foundation. What was taken as truth in the theory of Marxism-Leninism needs to be reconsidered in the light of the continual unfolding of history. The contradictions of Leninism can no longer be ignored, both in the light of the wealth of 20th century Marxist philosophy as well as the concrete experiences of class struggle.

Continuity and Rupture begins by exploring the history of 20th century communism. Moufawad-Paul's first object is to clearly distinguish between historical usages of the “cipher” Maoism, and its redeployment as the third link in the chain Marxism-Leninism-Maoism (54). Under Khrushchev, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) transitioned into revisionism with their policy of peaceful coexistence. Following in the 1960s, communists in the United States and other centers of capital sought theoretical stability in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), whose official ideology was (and remains) Marxism-Leninism. The organizations that together constituted the New Communist Movement named themselves after the leader of the CCP, but despite the naissance of a new term, their shared ideology was a commitment to an anti-revisionist Leninism. Moufawad-Paul distances his “Maoism-qua-Maoism” from this period of Maoism-qua-anti–revisionist-Marxism–Leninism (6). Although there were “glimmers” of the contradictions that constitute Leninism’s theoretical boundaries, and the mechanisms by which Maoism would be able to overcome them, it would not be until China fell to the capitalist “roaders” that the lessons of its failure could be discerned.

The cover of Continuity and Rupture

Continuity and Rupture

From his early days as an anarchist involved in union organizing, Moufawad-Paul has turned his affiliation towards Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. Maoism is a “heterodox” form of revolutionary theory, Moufawad-Paul writes, whose beliefs represent the most advanced scientific approach to freeing society from barbarism (xiii). Marx was the first to develop the idea that a scientific understanding of society can be developed from analysis of its history. Looking at the entire history of class struggle, it becomes apparent that the working class must use violent confrontation to overcome its antagonist. Continuity and Rupture speaks in its dénouement of the possibility of a people’s war in the heart of empire: a new strategy leading to new tactics of advancing class struggle. There are groups experimenting with protracted people’s war in the fringes of global capital, Moufawad-Paul reminds us: whether or not it could work in the most developed nations has yet to be determined (209).

Moufawad-Paul writes about his experiences in “movementist” circles in The Communist Necessity, the prolegomena to Continuity and Rupture: “We believed ourselves to be raindrops that would produce a flood capable of sweeping away capitalism, unwilling to recognize that this was perhaps a false analogy and that we were more accurately, in very concrete terms, a disorganized mob of enraged plebeians shaking our fists at a disciplined imperial army.”[1] Since the retreat of communism from political relevance, much has been newly articulated by those who experience oppression as a condition of their identity. The turn to postmodernity attempts to account for the multitude, but the postmodern returns to Marx made by Endnotes, Tiqqun / The Invisible Committee, Théorie Communiste, autonomist Marxists and every representative of the radical academy disguise a capitulation to the victory capital declared for itself. All of these theoretical moves are premised on the belief that communism was proven wrong, and that we must return to nothing to invent an entirely new way of making revolution. Moufawad-Paul writes throughout his works that communization theory has reserved revolution for a moment beyond the horizon of possibility; that anarchists and intersectional feminists embrace disunity as a positive quality (225). A movement whose basis for unity cannot bridge all movements is no more than a mob of plebeians. Maoism provides a framework for incorporating the demands of the multitude into a scientific approach to revolution that no other ideology offers.

Moufawad-Paul's project is to defend Maoism as a legitimate paradigm shift and to clarify its truth claims. To do so, he relies on Thomas Kuhn’s model of scientific development as the underlying logic for his arguments. According to Moufawad-Paul, the move from the set of beliefs of Leninism to that of Maoism was made necessary by contradictions implicit in the former; he locates the beginning of this movement to 1988 (xvii). The Peruvian Communist Party’s (PCP) analysis of the works of Mao Zedong and the successes and failures of the Chinese Communist Party led to the second most significant event in the history Moufawad-Paul tells: in 1993, the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM) established Maoism as a coherent political ideology “the new, third and higher stage of Marxism,” they write.[2] Maoism and the groups theorizing it are virtually non-existent in popular leftist discourse; even in contemporary Marxism the topic remains under-theorized. And yet, Maoism is the communism that is actually involved in making revolution in the people’s wars in Nepal, Peru, India, Afghanistan, and Turkey.

The events of 1988 and 1993 are the points when Maoism became something more than anti-revisionist Leninism. For Moufawad-Paul, these two events are responsible for codifying Maoism as a “new theoretical terrain” (xii). First, in 1988 the PCP published a document titled On Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. In it, they claimed that Maoism was universally valid, and “consequently...the third, new, and superior stage of the ideology of the international proletariat.”[3] This statement was developed in 1993, when the RIM, a coalition of Maoist organizations, published Long Live Marxism-Leninism-Maoism! Declaring, “to the international proletariat and the oppressed masses of the world...our guiding ideology is Marxism-Leninism-Maoism... the new, third and higher stage of Marxism.” The PCP used the suffix -ism to signify that there were lessons to be learned from the theoretical output of Mao and the events of the revolution in China that were “universally applicable to every particular context,” and therefore constitute a qualitative change in the nature of the science. This same group, Moufawad-Paul says, set fire to the voting booths in the 1980 elections and declared a people’s war (218); many of the groups involved in the RIM summit would restructure as Maoist organizations and initiate their own people’s wars.

Before he can describe how Maoism achieved an epistemic rupture, Moufawad-Paul must first describe what it ruptured through. He chooses Tom Clark’s The State and Counter-Revolution[4] as a paradigmatic explication of the boundaries of Leninism. Clark wrote following the dissolution of the Communist Workers Group (Marxist-Leninist) and his experiences, among other things, doing deadly battle with the Ku Klux Klan. The philosophical puzzle Clark unearths is the central problem of Continuity and Rupture; Marx alluded to it long ago when he wrote “the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas.”[5] Clark writes that the proletariat internalizes bourgeois ideology; without studying revolutionary theory, they will not know what is in their best interests, much less how to go about realizing them. To learn theory, the proletariat looks to “petty-bourgeois intellectuals” and as a result, the direction of such a movement will be determined “in the final instance” by petty-bourgeois ideology (96). The alternative is for the working class to form their own revolutionary party, but preoccupied with the business of working, and with a limited conception of their long-term interests, any class struggle arising out of the working class itself has historically been confined to what Moufawad-Paul calls “union-based economism” (97). A party formed outside of the working class is necessary, but the politics of such a party will not truly be representative of working class ideology. Moufawad-Paul summarizes Clark’s text, and the contradiction that led to the fall of the USSR and the CCP: “on the one hand it is impossible for the proletariat to spontaneously develop a revolutionary party with a revolutionary ideology; on the other hand it is impossible for a party that the workers cannot possibly develop, and thus is developed instead by the petty bourgeoisie, to carry a revolution to its completion” (99).

Because Marxism is a Hegelian philosophy, we should not be surprised to find Moufawad-Paul resolving contradictions through a dialectical “unity of opposites.” The synthesis that he sees as having affected the aufheben of Leninism into Maoism was the organizational technique of the mass-line, and the theory of Cultural Revolution behind it. The party learns the demands of the oppressed, and interprets these demands through the ideology of Marxism-Leninism: “from the masses, to the masses.” The mass-line forces the opposing poles of revolution and revisionism into contact; it is the continuous process of addressing the unavoidable presence of bourgeois ideology within the revolutionary party. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (GPCR) was an attempt to hold the party accountable by “bombarding the headquarters” and eliminating ideological contamination. Despite all the efforts made during the period of the GPCR, history tells us that it was not properly executed: some counter-revolutionary element persisted and China was led to become the great capitalist superpower we know today. The theory of Cultural Revolution addresses what Tom Clark saw as the inherently counter-revolutionary tendency of the Leninist party. The reconfiguration of post-revolutionary society must extend beyond the economic base, into its ideological superstructure. If we are to attain the telos of a “fully-automated luxury communist utopia,” the question Moufawad-Paul raises from his historical study, “how to consolidate the cultural revolution so as to win the class struggle that continues socialism” is an open question, newly encountered by history; its resolution remains open to class conflict (24).

Every party needs its constituent, and the theoretical line of a party is going to determine where it chooses to search for its base. In his build towards an investigation of Maoist strategy, Moufawad-Paul must first look at class, and what a class is made up of. Moufawad-Paul reminds us that Lenin found his proletariat in the factories, and his “October road” to socialism involved pursuing legal struggles and agitation until he could push for civil war. Mao’s revolutionary agent was the mass, which, Moufawad-Paul writes, is found “amongst the most oppressed and exploited elements of the working class...the majority of humanity that has nothing left to lose but its chains” (147). Mao’s long march to power was a protracted people’s war. “Mass” and “working class” are terms associated with the two different forms of Marxism; they are not interchangeable. Working class opens up to include those in the industrial reserve army, the subaltern peoples of colonized nations, and the wretched of the earth (147). It is a joke to think that the agent of revolution will be the unionized workers–the “labour aristocracy”–or members of the working class with the most to lose. A mass conception of class that finds its revolutionary core in those who are most exploited is one of the important illustrations made in Continuity and Rupture.

Moufawad-Paul stresses an intersection between the creation of the revolutionary core of the working class, as seen in a mass sense, with the production of oppressed identities by a patriarchal, racist, settler-colonial, ableist, hetero–and gender-normative state. Marxism-Leninism-Maoism offers, for the first time, a scientific approach to the demands of identity politics: its “party of the new type,” formed by the most oppressed members of society, engages in a praxis determined by the interests of these marginalized people. At the same time, Moufawad-Paul writes, if Maoism is contiguous with the Marxist insight that “class struggle is the motor of history” (12), a party of the new type will preserve a political line determined by class “in the final instance” (149). Mindful of class reductionism, Moufawad-Paul refers to the “final instance” as an abstract reduction “that allows us to understand the concrete” (151).

Throughout Continuity and Rupture, Moufawad-Paul has argued that the revolutionary party is essential, but that it bears a dangerous contradiction. Maoism resolves this contradiction through theoretical insights not limited to the GPCR. Now Moufawad-Paul moves on to consider what sort of strategy might befit a Maoist party. He takes the strategies of different revolutionary groups as resulting from their organizational structure. The strategic “destiny” of Lenin’s party is insurrection, the middle path that walks between the revisionism of right opportunists like Bernstein and Kautsky; and ultra-leftism, what Lenin called “the infantile disorder” (206). The Maoist party is a completely different organization that will produce its own logical destiny. In their 1993 statement, RIM called protracted people’s war (PPW) the Maoist theory of strategy. Continuity and Rupture finishes by acknowledging that there is still some debate over whether PPW is universal, or whether perhaps insurrection is more suited for developed nations. Moufawad-Paul proposes that the debate over the universal validity of PPW comes from “a lingering confusion between the name and concept of Maoism” (212), and that people’s war is the right strategy for a mass party. “This party of the new type, by aiming to diffuse itself amongst the masses, ought to begin the process of making revolution in its diffusion,” Moufawad-Paul writes. “Such an organization spreads its tentacles into every struggle, through innumerable fronts, so as to accumulate advanced forces that will become the germinal sites of military opposition” (218).

If we are committed to the fight against exploitation, we should look hard at our practices and be prepared to admit to what extent they rely on spontaneity. A scientific approach is vital. Following Moufawad-Paul to the end, the science of making revolution proposes a protracted armed struggle, waged by those with “nothing left to lose but their chains” and their allies, led by a vanguard party spread amongst the wretched of the earth. War is present; war is being waged against us. It is important to understand that socialism or barbarism really means “socialism or planetary destruction.” State monopoly on violence cannot be allowed to persist. |P

[1] Josh Moufawad-Paul, The Communist Necessity (Montreal: Kersplebedeb, 2014), 14.

[2] Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, “Long Live Marxism-Leninism-Maoism!," #20 (1995) avaliable online at <http://www.bannedthought.net/International/RIM/AWTW/1995-20/ll_mlm_20_eng.htm.>.

[3] Communist Party of Peru, “On Marxism-Leninism-Maoism,” Les Materialistes (30 March 2014) avaliable online at <http://lesmaterialistes.com/english/communist-party-peru-fundamental-documents.>

[4] Tom Clark, “The State and Counter-Revolution,” Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism (1983) available online at <https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-1a/tom-clark/index.htm.>

[5] Karl Marx, “The German Ideology,” (1932) available online at <https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/.>.

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