Marxism-Leninism-Maoism Is Not Just Marxism-Leninism Plus Mao.

Image result for mao head


Mechanistic and linear modes of thinking are anathema to Marxism. Yet, in the minds of many, Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is a simple extension, an “addition”, to Marxism-Leninism. While Maoism is a development of Marxism-Leninism, it is not simply another “ism” to tack on to the previous two. There is much more here than simple arithmetic. To be clear, I am not speaking of the differences between Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, which has already been covered thoroughly by comrade Ajith, but of the tendency to understand the development of Marxism as solely a cumulative process whereby the new is affixed to the old. This is of prime importance to Marxists, and more specifically Marxist-Leninist-Maoists, because it is through the application of dialectics that one begins to see the ruptures, continuities, and nuances ever-present in the development of proletarian ideology (i.e. Marxism). Without a proper grasp of the real development, contradictions, and syntheses that have propelled Marxism to new heights over the past 150 years it is easy for communists (even some Marxist-Leninist-Maoists) to see each new stage as nothing more than a new bookend to the previous development, like an as yet incomplete conclusion spelled out in a formulaic checklist that differentiates it from the old and justifies its existence. Forgetting that what justifies a leap is not a formal checklist, but the content of said development based in a rupture with the old. In relation to the development of Marxism there are two primary errors, one rightist and one leftist in its deviation. Here we will focus on the rightist error, as it is the basis of seeing Maoism as just another link in the chain of Marxism-Leninism.

The rightist error is rooted in a one-sided understanding of the dialectic of continuity-rupture. This, in the most simple terms, refers to the process by which new developments in revolutionary praxis are simultaneously an outgrowth of previous revolutionary praxis, and thus intimately tied to it, but also by necessity must be a radical break from the old. The rightist error in seeing Marxism-Leninism-Maoism as Marxism-Leninism with the simple addition of Mao stems from an overemphasis on continuity, while simultaneously ignoring the important ruptures from orthodox Marxism-Leninism. Of course ignoring the ruptures with Marxism-Leninism leaves one with no justification that Maoism is any kind of “ism” or qualitative leap in Marxism. This is because what makes an “ism” is that it is a qualitative development of quantitative historical and practical experience synthesized at a higher level. This is in contrast to what makes something a “thought”, which is a quantitative accumulation of historical and practical experience that remains largely particular in application and unsynthesized. A “thought” requires no rupture from the old as it is merely a “perfection” of orthodoxy standing at the threshold of something new. An “ism” is that something new, it has crossed the threshold of established orthodoxy to carve out a new revolutionary praxis.

Therefore, despite the insistence of those who claim the mantle of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, while concurrently promoting a rightist understanding of Maoism, that they are upholding Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, in reality they can only be left in a sterile Marxism-Leninism or the historical anachronism of Mao Zedong Thought. This rightist error also refuses to see that the synthesis of Maoism is not just the historical experience of the Chinese and Mao’s theoretical insights alone, but an all-around development and enrichment that extends beyond the Chinese experience. It negates the contributions made by the Peruvian communists (the ones to first put forward the necessity of Maoism as a new qualitatively higher stage of Marxism), as well as the application of Maoism by the Nepalese, Filipinos, and Indians.

Each application always, and without exception, produces new ruptures of varying degrees. Rightist thinking that overemphasizes continuity fails to recognize this and therefore becomes counter-revolutionary when confronted with new leaps in Marxism. Of course it must be mentioned that the ultra-left deviation of overemphasizing rupture can also act as a brake on the development and consolidation of a new revolutionary praxis, thus being counter-revolutionary itself. Both, while overemphasizing different qualities, repeat the error of one-sided thinking. They break with the fundamental dialectical kernel of Marxism. This is because Marxism, Leninism, and Maoism are not “closed systems”, i.e. they are not finished theories that are ready-made to be applied or understood in a vacuum. To believe so is to embrace formalism and dogmatism. The veracity of all three comes in their ability to, at one and the same time, be universal in scope while retaining all the applicability to the particular. They must be understood in relation and contradiction to each other, as well as to the material reality in which they are applied.

The “five heads” generally obscure rupture in favor of continuity, to the detriment of Maoism itself.

Overemphasis on continuity also ignores the fact that what makes Marxism “scientific” is that it develops through internal criticism and the constant process of the application of the universal to the particular, which then produces new insights that may themselves become universal, and so on in a never-ending spiral. Continuity sees unity and linearity above all else, and therefore refuses to see internal contradiction, which is the motor force of development. All of this must not be misunderstood as a mere theoretical squabble devoid of real world repercussions. This is no hair-splitting. One who sees noting but continuity in Marxism-Leninism-Maoism cannot hope to truly understand and apply it to their own conditions, simply because it [Maoism] has become nothing more than a formality to only be acknowledged as a leap, but not understood as such.

Marxism-Leninism-Maoism preserves and recaptures the revolutionary core of both Marxism and Leninism, which were severely warped by a mechanistic Stalinist orthodoxy, by seeing its own development as one that has progressed by leaps, starts and stops, and a shedding of the incorrect through ruthless self-examination and criticism of everything existing. It must be briefly said, as it is beyond the scope of this article, that the main deviations of “Stalinism” are the social-democratic understanding of the State, the erasure of class struggle from the socialist period, the primacy of the productive forces in the advance towards communism, its bourgeois understanding of law, the failure to distinguish between different types of contradictions (and therefore the failure to handle each type correctly), the failure to ingrain the Party with the masses through the mass line, its inability to understanding the interplay between the base and superstructure and how one transforms the other, and the inability to formulate a theory of bureaucracy/state bourgeoisie and to produce a means to combat it through the masses themselves. These are of course are only some of the distortions of a “Stalinized” Marxism-Leninism, but they are precisely the key ones that necessitated a radical rupture in the form of Maoism. Seeing nothing but continuity preserves these errors, it brushes them under the rug, only to inevitably be resurrected again in theory and practice.

A diagram of just one of the many errors of Stalinism from the introduction to Balibar’s On the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Here it focuses on the difference between Lenin’s conception of the socialist period and Stalin’s, specifically around the role class struggle plays in that period.

The power of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism doesn’t rest solely in its correct understanding of capitalism, imperialism, and revolutionary praxis, but in its oft forgotten promotion, preservation, and forging of the dialectic of continuity-rupture, which is truly grasped in its all-sidedness through a correct understanding of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. Those who claim to be Marxist-Leninist-Maoists, yet see smooth continuity from Marxism-Leninism (including its Stalinist distortion), to Maoism have not grasped the revolutionary essence of Marxism itself. They have refused to look inwardly, to practice self-criticism, and apply historical materialism to an entire historical period of the practical experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat and revolution. They fail to see many of the errors created and enforced during the Stalin period that lead to Maoism being a necessary corrective, and so they repeat those same errors in theory and practice.

The “three heads” encapsulate the dialectic of continuity-rupture.

It must not be mistaken that this piece is meant to “bend the stick” into the ultra-left deviation of overemphasizing the rupture made by Maoism of Marxism-Leninism, but a call for a real dialectical understanding of the unity of continuity-rupture within Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. The main problem today is the rightist understanding of Maoism, although the ultra-left deviation manifests itself in the remnants of the “Mao-spontex” trend of hyper-voluntarism and pseudo-anarchism, and therefore it must be attacked openly and without hesitation. All genuine Marxist-Leninist-Maoists should insist on combatting both deviations and making a deep, and historical materialist, study of the development of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism that takes account of the significant areas of real continuity with Marxism-Leninism, but is careful to fully illuminate the key breakthroughs that made Maoism necessary. Without this, Maoism is nothing more than an empty formality rather than a revolutionary necessity. A revolution is a rupture, not a continuity, and today not only is revolution on the agenda, but so too is understanding the ruptures that led to the engine of modern revolution, Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. All who fail to take account of this will always be trapped inside the tomb of continuity, unable to escape their self-made prison as the ruptures of revolution rage all around them.



9 thoughts on “Marxism-Leninism-Maoism Is Not Just Marxism-Leninism Plus Mao.

  1. If you aren’t aware similar terrain has been covered by Mike Ely of Kasama on this question

    Honest question here isn’t the conception of the term “Marxism-Leninism” already a Stalinist concept? Indeed the term “Marxism-Leninism” was coined by Stalin himself

    judging by this post and previous ones posted on this wordpress it seems to be that you are vacilltating between Stalinism in itself existing or not existing (or jokingly to put it in Stalinist terms, you are opportunistically vacillating between left and right deviations from the party line!)

    it’s Stalinism, not “Stalinism” (in quotation marks)! Stalinists are not just “Marxist-Leninists” but Stalinists

    I find that those who deny Stalinism exists and insist on referring the phenomenon as Marxism-Leninism feel compelled to do so to defend Stalin in some way or shape or form. If Trotskyism exists why not Stalinism? Or are we now to talk about “Trotskyism” in quotation marks? Or perhaps judging by your distinction between “ism” and “thought” we should consider the term Marxism-Leninism Stalin Thought?

    I’m no Trotskyist though, I also think was wrong Trotsky to call himself a “Bolshevik-Leninist”, though this was done for political reasons of course just like Stalin did, to minimize the difference between themselves to Lenin and gain an edge on their respective sides of the factional struggle. After all Stalin claimed that he was a mere “faithful servant” of Lenin. Proclaiming himself a “Marxist-LENINIST” bolstered his claim.

    Regarding “viewing things from all-sidedness and not one-sided understanding” (paraphrase) I think a better and more “scientific” term to get to the essence of what you are trying to get across would the Hegelian-Marxist notion of Totality, that is to “understand a concept is grasp it in it’s Totality”, to grasp continuity and rupture in it’s Totality.

    On 5 heads vs 3 heads what do you think about the Nepali Maoists usage of 5 heads?

    Honestly though I prefer 0 heads for any communist movement, this just promotes cult worshipping at the worse.


      1. Also considering Badiou, a self proclaimed Maoist (or post-Maoist to be precise) advocates a politics “distance from the State” would he be considered “ultra-left deviation”?


    1. I don’t think I have vacillated on whether or not Stalinism exists. Currently, I think it only exists in the margins of the international communist movement as a historical relic. As far as Stalinism itself, I think the term is accurate in so far as it describes s historical period, and a set of theories and practices formalized by the Stalin era Communist Party and the Comintern. It is because of this that the “ism”/”thought” distinction doesn’t really come into play because what is being suggested is not that Stalinism represents any kind of leap or summation, but rather a historical deviation and time period of the ICM. And yes, Stalin did push for the recognition and adoption of Marxism-Leninism, however, as Marxism-Leninism was universal in scope, and rounded out by others too, it transcends Stalin’s minimal contributions. At root, Leninism exists with or without Stalin.

      As far as the 5 heads vs. 3 heads regarding the Nepalese, I don’t really stand in the best place to criticize it for the primary reason that I, nor the U.S. Maoist movement as a whole, have produced a better and coherent counter-understanding to the old Maoist orthodoxy that the Nepalese and others adhere to. Besides that I also think that the unevenness of information contributes to this problem. Much of the groundbreaking Marxist work on Stalin and Stalinism is not in English and hasn’t been translated, and the English works on the Stalin period haven’t been translated to languages like Hindi, Tagalog etc. So what we have is two Maoist understandings of Stalin and Stalinism(one in the West and one in the peripheries), both working from a base of Maoist orthodoxy, but each having access to incomplete information in ongoing historiographic debates. This is precisely why I don’t buy the arguments by some U.S. Maoists that the MLM groups in the peripheries solely have a positive view of Stalin because the imperialist narrative is weaker there. The reality is, like I said, that most of those MLM groups have not studied the more recent material due to lack of international publication and translation.

      And yes, totality would be an accurate encapsulation of the concept I was conveying.


      1. Thank you for your reply and sorry for my late reply, I mean’t Marxism-Leninism shouldn’t be the term to designate Lenin’s thought (or what is universal) as the term is completely Stalinist in origin. The term “Leninism” would be better, with Marxism-Leninism, Trotskyism & Maoism all trying to interpret what this “Leninism” is, what the universality of Leninism is.

        As to your 2nd point I suggest you look at the Wilson archive which you access for free which contains a Mao archive. I found these two particular documents rather illuminating, especially the first one below where in one instance in 1956 Mao labels Yugoslavia as a socialist country, it made me realize that Maoist “orthodoxy” is based on a preconceived dogma based on partial information and nonsensical.


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