If you hang around the various socialist forums online long enough you’re bound to stumble across a few individuals that adhere to a tendency that can be said to fall under the larger umbrella of “left communism”. As a political signifier, “left communism” is pretty meaningless in our contemporary setting, primarily because the term only makes sense in relation to its time period and political opposite, that is, the specific historical period in which it arose (the early 1920s) and the specific tendency that it emerged as a critique of (the Bolsheviks and the post-revolutionary Soviet state) within the international communist movement. Since it’s not the 1920s, nor does the Soviet Union exist anymore, the term “left communism” unfortunately remains with us as a bit of a catch all for all communist tendencies that oppose “Bolshevism”, or in modern terms, all of the political inheritors of Leninism, i.e. Marxist-Leninists, Trotskyists, and Marxist-Leninist-Maoists. However, this post is not an overall critique of “left communism”, or the tendencies such as Bordigism or council communism which fall under its umbrella, but a compilation of the five most banal and trite accusations or “analyses” made by left communists as a whole against Leninists of all stripes, complete with a clarification or refutation of the claim. Why is this necessary? Because it is beyond annoying to engage constantly with these same low-level “arguments” over and over in every socialist space. It’s far more productive to archive them in a list than needlessly repeat myself ad nauseam.
- Claim: “Ideologies don’t make revolution, classes do.”
Answer: No shit. Every Marxist, regardless of tendency, is a materialist. Consequently, no one is denying the fact that material forces, not ideas, construct and change our world. To insist on saying that Marxist-Leninists, Trotskyists, or Marxist-Leninist-Maoists believe this is equivalent to constructing a straw-man argument. The primary reason I have seen for this accusation stems directly from a misunderstanding of how Leninists understand and speak of ideologies. For example, recently I shared an article about how “Maoism is the reason why revolution is alive in the Philippines”. Almost instantaneously the thread was bombarded with left communists screaming “IDEOLOGIES DON’T MAKE REVOLUTION!”, as if the author, or myself, were unaware of this fact. The fact of the matter is, this obsession with “ideologies not making revolution” directly correlates to the unwillingness by many left communists to actually understand ideology’s role in a revolution and how it arises. By saying that a revolution is guided by Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, for example, we are not saying that Marxism-Leninism-Maoism exists as some guiding Platonic force floating above the firmament controlling the tide of revolution. What we mean is that through class struggle and actually making revolution, Marxism-Leninism-Maoism has emerged as the highest summation of the successes and failures of the proletarian movement over the past 150 years. More simply, it emerged from revolutionary practice, but, true to the dialectic of theory and practice, ideology emerges from practice and informs new practice. This the Marxist theory of knowledge in a nutshell. As Mao said in On Practice, “In class society, everyone lives as a member of a particular class, and every kind of thinking, without exception, is stamped with the brand of a class.”Ideologies do not exist independently of classes, just as classes do not exist independently of ideologies.To deny, or handwave away, ideology’s existence is tantamount to lopping off an arm of Marxism itself, to eliminating the aspect of theory which is a necessary component of practice.
- Claim: “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is tankie.”
Answer: Ah, this is one of my favorites since it always reveals that the person who said it doesn’t know jack-shit about political terminology or history. Let’s break the term “tankie” down into three distinct, yet often overlapping, political positions. First the historical meaning of the term. The historical tankies were the ones who supported Khrushchev and his “sending in of the tanks” (hence the origin of the term tankie) into Hungary. Since this use of the term refers to a specific historical event that is no more relevant today than one’s position on whether one supported the Roundheads, it’s pointless to use tankie in this sense against a political opponent today. Secondly, tankie can be used to refer to all those who supported the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc as “actually existing socialism” throughout their entire existence. This of course is another historical specificity, although still somewhat relevant today with those so-called communists that uphold Cuba and the DPRK as “actually existing socialism”. However, this is not the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist position. The Marxist-Leninist-Maoist position is that “actually existing socialism” was not socialism but state capitalism and therefore that there are no socialist countries existing today. Thirdly, tankie, as it is used by Marxist-Leninist-Maoists in its most applicable form, denotes those communists who embrace a positivist interpretation of historical materialism and the transition to communism, i.e. the only thing that matters when considering if socialism exists is the economic factor (is there state owned property and a planned economy). The political and transformative aspects, which assume a place of primacy according to Maoists, don’t matter to tankies. Based on these three usages, which cover all relevant uses of the term, Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is indisputably not tankie.
- “Claim: Indian and Filipino Maoists are just peasants that hide out in the jungle and shoot at cops every now and then.”
Answer: Disregarding the patronizing and Eurocentric nature of this claim which makes my blood boil, it’s just flat out wrong to anybody who has sat down for five minutes to study the Indian and Filipino revolutions. In both cases you have communist parties comprising thousands of members, with mass organizations and armed forces under their guidance, themselves comprising thousands of members and combatants. Furthermore, it glosses over, in the most vulgar way, the real gains that have been made in establishing base areas, or dual power structures, in wide swaths of both countries. Also, claiming that everyone who fights in the PLGA or NPA is just a fanatical peasant is some straight up racist and orientalist bullshit.
- Claim: “Maoism is class collaborationism.”
Answer: Saying this requires that you have no idea what either Maoism or class collaborationism actually are. Class collaborationism actually entails subsuming the proletariat into a position of liquidation into the bourgeoisie or petty-bourgeoisie. Maoism has always stressed that the proletariat should be the leading force of any revolution, that is, the class that leads all other classes in revolution. Furthermore, this claim rests on an implicit assumption that revolutions are carried out solely by one class, which has never been true historically. Revolutions always involve multiple classes, but again, what matters is what class leads all the other revolutionary, or potentially revolutionary, classes. The October Revolution didn’t happen without the petty-bourgeoisie and the peasantry’s participation, nor was the Chinese Revolution accomplished without the participation of the petty-bourgeoisie, peasantry, and national bourgeoisie. However, in both cases the proletariat was the leading force, or the class whose politics were in command. Working with other classes is not class collaborationism, since, going back to Marx, there was a recognition of the necessity of this, but class collaborationism is merging the proletarian struggle into bourgeois political struggle. Something Maoists have never advocated.
- “X country was just state capitalist.”
Answer: Well, depending on the “when” and “what” we’re talking about, we might be in agreement on this. For example, I do believe, and could support, that socialism was transformed into state capitalism in the USSR (by the 1950s) and China (by 1976-78) through a protracted period of class struggle that ended in the defeat of the proletarian political line and a transformation of socialist social relations back to capitalist social relations. However, this claim is often used as a blanket statement that covers all past revolutionary experiences as “state capitalist”. While there do exist more sophisticated left communist analyses defending the idea that everything besides 1918-1921 Russia and Catalonia were state capitalist, most of your average left communists don’t seem to be able to articulate any type of analysis of why this is so. In my opinion, if you’re going to hold a position you better at least be able to defend it when challenged instead of remaining silent or deflecting, something that has happened in the majority of debates I’ve had on this issue with left communists. The problem of being able to defend and articulate firm political positions isn’t limited to left communists, it’s a symptom of any person who ventures into joining a group or movement usually tends to join up with those that provide the simplest explanations, then as one gains more knowledge and information one moves on or defends their position better. This is why many new communists gravitate towards left communism (or even anarcho-communism) or tankie positions. Primarily because all of these tendencies have larger amounts of adherents providing canned two sentence answers to complex political questions. It’s a lot easier, and politically more “sexy” to just write off all past revolutions as “state capitalist” rather than sit down and undertake the arduous, and often not very fun, task of studying these revolutions in their all-sidedness and complexity. The problem becomes when left communists don’t outgrow this phase of only wanting simple explanations and continue on saying demonstrably false things, such as all five of the above statements.