By Rainer Shea – Oct 11, 2021
In 1981, the Sixth Plenum of the 11th Communist Party of China’s Central Committee wrote in their Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China that:
The Party, the country and the people suffered from the most serious setbacks and the biggest loss during the “cultural revolution,” which lasted from May 1966 to October 1976, since the founding of the PRC… The history of the “cultural revolution” proved that the main argument for comrade Mao Zedong to start the “cultural revolution” was not in line with Marxism-Leninism nor with the reality of China… It was proved through practice that the “cultural revolution” was not, and could not possibly be, a revolution or social progress in every sense… (It) was a civil turmoil, which was wrongly started by leaders, was exploited by counter-revolutionary groups, and which brought disastrous consequences to the Party, the country and the people.
For the faction of the global communist movement that defends essentially all of Mao’s actions as correct, this was just another piece of evidence supporting their narrative that China’s modern Communist Party had betrayed the revolution. But this insistence on crying foul regarding the judgments of the Party, this often vocal series of declarations that the modern CPC and its supporters are liars, is motivated by a desire to push down the truth. This being that Mao, like so many other leaders of the communist movement, has at times been incorrect. And that in order to successfully implement socialism elsewhere, we must recognize those errors and proceed according to the lessons we learn from them.
This kind of objective approach towards analysis will help us recognize two of the most important things for our movement: carry out the full transfer of jurisdiction over the occupied territories back to the indigenous First Nations, and build socialism within these nations while supporting the existing socialist countries. The latter is important not just for the sake of building allyship with these countries, but for not blinding ourselves to the benefits of the approaches they’ve taken towards building socialism. Then we’ll have more flexibility in what we’re willing to do to improve the conditions of the masses.
To make the case for both of these ideas, I’ll respectively repudiate the narratives from the Maoists, and from the socialists who claim we should uphold US patriotism.
The deeper follies of Maoism
To repudiate the claim from the Mao-aligned dogmatists that we shouldn’t support existing socialism, we must examine the mistakes that led to their camp coming into existence. Mao’s great error was in being dogmatic, a pitfall that he ironically warned against. His ideological inflexibility led him to help enable (though not directly facilitate) the objectively harmful consequences of the Cultural Revolution, as well as to put forth a view of other socialist countries that continues to lead many within the global communist movement astray.
This is the idea that the Soviet Union had not only devolved into revisionism (an accurate critique), but had become the primary enemy of the liberation of the world’s oppressed. As Marxist writer Harry Haywood warned in 1984, this narrative took the critique of the USSR too far, to the effect that an entire bloc of communists was now misdirecting its energy towards needless antagonisms. Haywood described Mao and Maoism’s case against the USSR as such:
The question of the Soviet Union is fundamentally a strategic one. This means we must address the first revolutionary question posed by Mao: “Who are our enemies? Who are our friends?” Is the Soviet Union a friend or an enemy of revolution? How we answer this question not only determines our international strategic concept but also shapes our line on a whole series of tactical problems. Throughout the 1970s the Chinese answered this question with the Three Worlds Theory. In its most developed form the Three Worlds Theory argued that the Soviet Union was the “main enemy” of the world’s peoples. It also said that, “Of the two imperialist superpowers, the Soviet Union is the more ferocious, the more reckless, the more treacherous, and the most dangerous source of world war,” taking the offensive all over the world.
To explain why the characterization of the USSR as “imperialist” was wrong, Haywood only had to apply a basic analysis of what imperialism is:
History demonstrates that, overall, Soviet foreign policy has been basically defensive and non-aggressive. This fact does not mean that everything the Soviet Union does is correct or that it cannot make serious mistakes or pursue wrong lines. For example, its relations with China and other socialist countries have been marked at times by chauvinism and hegemonism. But these problems do not make the Soviet Union a social imperialist power. Without a monopoly capitalist class and without capitalist relations of production there is no fundamental and compelling logic in the Soviet economy that creates a need to export capital and exploit other countries through trade. As a result it also has no colonies and no empire to sustain.
Because the Maoists adhered to this false narrative about the USSR, they became willing to accept their equally inaccurate current belief that modern China is imperialist—a belief that can be disproven using the same analytical framework. Due to their belief that anything deviating from Mao’s approach is “revisionist,” they’ve come to view China’s post-Mao incorporation of markets—which economics research shows is what’s behind the country’s record poverty reduction—as evidence of counterrevolution. And because Vietnam, Laos, Cuba, and the DPRK also don’t follow Mao’s approach to varying degrees, they’ve disowned all these other socialist countries as “not truly socialist.”
This view comes not from a Marxist approach towards critique, but from the type of critique of socialist states that we often see from anarchists—namely, taking the presence of any and all class contradictions within these countries, real or imagined, as evidence of their having fallen to the same revisionist fate as the post-Stalin USSR. Given that this view is often based off of the narrative about the USSR having been imperialist (Cuba is viewed by some of these Maoists as having been a colony for “Soviet social imperialism”), the root motive behind it is clear: to make Mao’s Cultural Revolution feel vindicated by tearing down the socialist projects that have taken a different route from this dogmatic one. To make it look like the CPC had to have been lying when it admitted to the mistakes of the earlier years, since the CPC is now a “capitalist roader” entity that’s building an alleged global empire.
Learning from Mao’s errors could particularly be what saves our movement from defeat; when Peruvian Maoist Chairman Gonzalo refused to learn from them, and led his army into reckless and impractical acts of violence, ironically going against Mao’s warning to not go on the offensive before the masses are ready. Consequently, Gonzalo’s revolutionary insurgency failed, and he died in the prison of Peru’s bourgeois government.
To avoid repeating the mistakes of the Cultural Revolution, and to not be constrained by dogma in our future campaign towards building socialism, we must reject the attempts to discredit existing socialism. Harrywood alluded to this by saying regarding the post-1970s stage of capitalist crisis: “These developments make it all the more urgent for American communists to cast aside outmoded and incorrect political ideas so we can begin to give direction to the trends. Our first step is to begin to seeking a process of unity based around strategic direction that clearly recognizes US imperialism as the center of world reaction, the main threat to world peace and the main enemy of the world’s people.”
Essential to this will be also rejecting an additional type of dogma that’s long afflicted the socialist movement in the United States: colonial chauvinism.
The follies of the colonial chauvinists
On the question of whether socialists in the US should be patriotic towards their country, the Iraqi communist Hakim recently said to Vietnamese communist Luna Oi:
This is a solved issue for the vast majority of the left outside of the white, Western online left. Where I’m from, this is not an issue, where Luna’s from I’m sure it’s not an issue… and it wasn’t a problem for the Chinese, or the Soviets, or the Cubans, or anybody else… Luna is Vietnamese. Her country, during the resistance against the illegal American invasion and aggression, did practice a form of left-wing nationalism, in which was an inclusive form where all of the people of Vietnam, regardless of their various ethnicities, because Vietnam is not a mono-ethnic country… they united behind a Vietnamese historical identity… The United States, at the end of the day, is a settler-colonial country. Because it’s a settler-colonial country, you cannot be patriotic for it or nationalistic for it, because what you’re nationalistic for is an inherently reactionary and exclusionary ideology.
The communists in those other countries have already solved this issue because they aren’t in the United States, the core of global imperialism and a country that only exists due to indigenous genocide and land theft. The contradictions within the US are so extreme that here, even many communists have had their minds poisoned by the racist myths that the country is built off of. These myths being that the American revolution was about “freedom” (when in fact it was about preserving slavery and continuing colonialism’s westward expansion), that the ongoing occupation of Native land is justified (a belief only compatible with the idea that imperialism is justified), and that “America” is an actual nation with a cross-ethnic, shared national identity on par with a nation like Vietnam (it’s not a nation but merely a colony of settlers).
The communists who accept these myths have the opposite problem to the Maoists; whereas the Maoists see contradictions where none exist, the colonial chauvinists fail to see contradictions where they do exist. The problems with their messages and actions aren’t merely symbolic, though the choice by their leading polemicists to pointedly display the US flag is obnoxious and offensive in itself. The issue with their attempt to reconcile US patriotism with socialism goes far deeper; from what I’ve been explicitly told by representatives of this faction, what they want is not the full return of indigenous sovereignty but merely a partial version of it. Not to return full jurisdiction over the stolen land to the tribes (as has already successfully happened throughout the eastern half of Oklahoma despite the indigenous-governed areas being majority-white), but to give back the tribes a select amount of that land.
This stance is irreconcilably opposed to the concept of self-determination for colonized nations. Because if and when more of these colonized nations start demanding all of their land back during the coming decades of intensifying anti-colonial struggle, what will these “patriotic socialists” do should they get into power? Say no, and perpetuate the cycle of violently enforced settler annexation that the previous government began? Such an attack on the sovereignty of the colonized, especially during a moment of revolutionary crisis and instability, would spark a civil war between the militant anti-colonialists and these obstinate “communist” colonial chauvinists. The colonial contradiction would still be there, and capable of destroying our hopes for building workers democracy on this continent.
As much as the colonial chauvinists accuse principled anti-colonialists of dividing the working class, they’re the ones who refuse to unify with the colonized peoples—the primary vanguard of the revolution on this continent—in helping reach an entirely practical vision of post-colonial governance. The indigenous anti-colonialists already have a coherent model for what their full national sovereignty would look like; they’ve had it since Tecumseh tried to set up a Native confederacy before being backstabbed by the insatiable US land-grabbers. The African anti-colonialists have long had a vision for creating an independent African nation on this continent, and there’s historical precedent for something like it in the USSR’s Jewish Autonomous Oblast. These nations have shown us the route towards solving the colonial contradiction. We whites can join them in realizing it, or let this climate crisis-ridden continent finish burning down in an attempt to hold onto our petty settler privileges.
I believe proletarians of all colors are going to unite behind an agenda of unity with the national liberation movement in sufficient numbers, even if some among them, even within the communist movement, will never do this. This is because the masses are driven by their own class interests, not by the dogma that confused ideological factions put forth. As Frantz Fanon wrote, “This colossal task, which consists of reintroducing man into the world, man in his totality, will be achieved with the crucial help of the European masses who would do well to confess that they have often rallied behind the position of our common masters on colonial issues. In order to do this, the European masses must first of all decide to wake up, put on their thinking caps and stop playing the irresponsible game of Sleeping Beauty.” Which applies to the settler descendants of Europeans on this continent.
Featured image: Land Back Campaign in Rapid City, Oseti Sakowin Lands, South Dakota, did a banner drop with the US flag upside down in protest against indigenous genocide and settler-colonialism, on July 4, 2021. Photo: Twitter / @ndncollective