Nigel Harris


The Mandate of Heaven


Part V
Proletarian Internationalism


16. Mao Tse-tung Thought Abroad

Chinese foreign policy is only one aspect of the influence of Mao Tse-tung thought. Supporters of the Chinese Communist party would argue, indeed, that it is only a minor aspect. Is it possible that this wider influence could stimulate revolution in the world, independently of China’s official activities?

Before the Sino-Soviet split, the Left was crippled by its identification with the notorious tyranny of the Soviet Union. Every challenge forced socialists on the defensive, and it was Western capitalism that was able to lay claim to “freedom”. For the Communists, only an immense intellectual evasion could keep their faith alive. Indeed, theory became a faith, an opaque scholasticism no longer accessible to any except the most dedicated student. For workers, “the Party” remained for many years the most consistent defender of their immediate shop-floor interests, but the link between those interests and the conquest of political power became so tortuous few could identify it. For politics in the Party had now become identified with the interests of the Russian State, not the struggle for workers’ power. The material basis of “Marxism-Leninism” – the defence of the national interests of the Russian ruling class – was in contradiction to its supposed principles, the international emancipation of the oppressed.

Without the Sino-Soviet split, it is possible, for example, that the new Left in the United States in the 1960s would ultimately have gravitated towards Moscow. As it was, the idealism of the student radicals spread outwards to embrace a wealth of doctrines, from anarchism, experiments in new ways of life and new religions, to the orthodoxies. In the short term, the unity of a common cause, rooted in the interests of the Soviet Union, was irrevocably weakened, but in the longer term, the change compelled socialists to rethink the tired formulae of Moscow, and rediscover what the struggle for freedom was supposed to mean.

The pace of the process of intellectual emancipation is not, however, determined politically by cogitation, but by events, by the crises which test the relevance of the responses inherited from the past. Events are determined independently of the Left, and most frequently without socialists playing even a slight role. Socialists who will not or cannot be involved sometimes conceal their unimportance by pinning labels over events, by trying to colonize them intellectually, and thereby reconcile rectitude with impotence. The real need, however, is not labelling but to reshape thought and action so that the socialists become relevant, become able to learn anew the tasks required to shape revolt so that it is aligned with the principle of universal emancipation. Does Mao Tse-tung thought assist this process?

There is an immediate problem. The practice of the Chinese Communist party in its ascent to power was only indirectly related to the theory it claimed to follow. The party’s basic aim was to create a strong national State, not to precipitate a world movement of self-emancipation (although its supporters would argue that the first was a step towards the second). The material basis of power was not the party’s relationship to China’s working class or peasantry, but its command of an independent army and territory. The Japanese invasion gave the party its opportunity to champion Chinese nationalism, not workers’ internationalism.

However, these material factors play little role in Mao Tse-tung thought. There, it is suggested that revolution flows, not from material factors, but from “ideology”.

The party has, in Marx’s terms, an “esoteric wisdom”, sustained independently of the perception of workers. The wisdom does not contribute to the struggle of workers, except in the sense of giving it a style of rhetorical extremism. The party is united by doctrine, not by its relationship to a class, and it is doctrine which identifies all other parties, not their class. The party thus conforms to Marx’s criterion of a sect: “The sect sees the justification for its existence and its ‘point of honour’ not in what it has in common with the class movement but in the particular shibboleth which distinguishes it from it.” [49]

The party grows by inducing people to accept its ideology, and this accounts for the stress laid on “education” and psychological transformation. Theory does not explain the perceptions workers derive from their own experience. Rather, faith provides a spiritual consolation and direction independent of those perceptions. The faith has sometimes echoes of non-conformist Christianity, for it embodies a moral attitude rather than a scientific theory that relates the experience of a class to society as a whole. Part of the faith may be an abstract emphasis on science. For example, the Australian Marxist-Leninists say of Mao Tst-tung thought that “it teaches us to study actual conditions and respect the facts”, a proposition sadly not implemented in their publications. [50]

A faith requires enemy doctrines to give it definition and unity. The differences are doctrinal, not about the appropriateness of the theory to an independent material reality. Since doctrine is all, the greatest animosity is directed at those doctrinally closest – whether Communists or Trotskyists. These are traitors, not to be argued with or shown the error of their beliefs, but anathematized. Above all, the true believers are always threatened with the virus of “revisionism”.

The word “revisionism” sums up the confusion. For the word is rarely defined, and therefore disagreements can never be specified and argument directed at a particular question. Yet the word has become the small change of Left-wing circles today. It carries the connotation of corruption among the true believers, arising from the combination of greed and bribery by the enemies of the party. This implies that what is “true belief” is clear, and not revisionist. Yet it is precisely that which is in dispute.

The word was not unclear when it began its life. At the turn of the century, a group of thinkers in the social democratic movement argued that some of Marx’s important predictions were wrong and, furthermore, that Marxism was a science of economic analysis, showing the inevitability of socialist revolution, without indicating why anyone should do anything about it. It lacked, they said, a moral imperative to inspire workers to revolution. Some of them later formulated such an imperative, drawn from the work of the philosopher, Immanuel Kant, and employed much ingenuity in trying to graft it onto Marxism. The issue is complicated, and the criticisms depended for much of their force on the peculiar character of the “Marxism” presented by the leading theoretician of social democracy, Karl Kautsky.

“Revisionism” in this form was the point of re-entry for philosophic Idealism, for a re-emphasis upon morality, moralizing and voluntarism. Marxism was misconstrued as a bourgeois science, and then a bourgeois ethic brought in to “restore the balance”. It had the effect of asserting the decisive role of those who could understand what it was all about, the intellectuals. Ideas in the hands of those most adept at manipulating them were made the primary force, rather than the material reality facing the majority.

The issues in dispute died with the creation of the Communist International (the revisionists went with the Socialist International and social democracy), but not the need of intellectuals to expropriate workers intellectually within the workers movement. The impact of Stalinism was to achieve just this result. After Stalin, it took extraordinary intellectual dexterity to master what had become sacred texts, to smooth the contradictory twists and turns of Soviet policy into one continuum. The Sino-Soviet dispute removed what is required to sustain an orthodoxy an international authority defining what is orthodox. China has established no new defining authority, so the field is open to all with the ambition to perform that role. Neo-Kantian ethics could now emerge in the guise of the “correct Marxist-Leninist leadership”. But the sheer diversity of correct lines jeopardizes the authority of each; for one group, all other “correct lines” are “revisionism”.

“Revisionism” is apparently not reformism – the argument that socialism can be achieved gradually through the accepted institutions of existing society. Nor does it mean revising certain propositions advanced by Marx, for Mao has done as much of that as anyone. It is an individual error and can be overcome simply by changing loyalties.

If “revisionism” is a dividing line between socialists, separating the true from the false, there is a similar supposed division between ruling classes. Much of the literature argues that a ruling class is wrong because it is greedy, corrupt, arrogant, the implication being that if it were not these things, it would be acceptable. Bad ruling classes are the problem, not ruling classes per se, much as in China, as we have seen, bad bureaucrats are a problem, not bureaucrats in general. The literature of Maoist groups employs the word “fascist” to denote bad ruling classes. Thus, in recent years, in the eyes of many supporters of China, almost the entire capitalist world is governed by fascists – Presidents Nixon and Ford, Mrs Gandhi, Edward Heath, Mr Frazer of Australia – all have been at times “fascist” or “semi-fascist”. Governments can become fascist, and then stop being fascist, as we have seen in Peking’s view of Japan. There is no objective structure which defines the term, only subjective responses.

The term has another function. It provides the rationale for “stages”. All “democratic” classes, including the “patriotic” part of the ruling class, must be united under the leadership of the party to overthrow fascism and create “new democracy”. There is thus apparently an interest common to all classes in the existing national State. Once the party secures power, the workers are supposed gradually to establish their “dictatorship” through a series of peaceful reforms, culminating in socialism. Thus, revolution through class collaboration is followed by a gradualist and reformist stage. The effect is to displace workers’ interests as the primary force in revolution (except in so far as workers are part of the “nation”). The politics of class alliance entail that the workers must restrain their instincts to the pace of development of their “ally”, the national bourgeoisie; the exploiters determine the tolerable degree of activity of the exploited. The party is, above all, the supreme mediator balancing between contradictory class interests. An almost identical set of propositions is embraced by pro-Moscow Communists.

Supporters of Mao give legitimacy to these propositions with citations from a tradition. But the quotations are not seen as responses to concrete problems at a particular time, but as abstract principles, universally applicable as are religious principles. The writings of Lenin, for example, become reduced to a set of abstractions, and since Lenin said many things which are contradictory when taken out of context, there is a vast field for doctrinal disputation. Furthermore, the Lenin of What is to be done? becomes the manual of party organization, not the practice of Lenin’s party organization between 1905 and 1917.

In this way the “ultra-leftist” slogans of the Comintern’s Third Period (1928-33) can, in Maoist publications, be sumultaneously conjoined with their contradiction, the right-wing directives of the Comintern’s Seventh Congress (1935). It will be recalled that the Comintern introduced its Third Period by arguing that the world was about to enter a phase of unprecedented revolutionary activity. It was therefore no longer necessary to have defensive collaboration with other working- class parties, the united front. On the contrary, such parties were an obstacle to radicalizing the workers; the largest of these parties, the Social Democrats, was described as “social fascist” to emphasize the point. Communists must now prepare for armed insurrection for an immediate seizure of power. By contrast, the Seventh Congress relinquished all intention of revolution. It was argued that the world was about to be swamped by fascism, and the Soviet Union might be embroiled in devastating war with Nazi Germany. Defence of the Soviet Union became the overriding priority, and Communists must take action to unify all national forces opposed to fascism and secure an alliance between their own State and the Soviet Union. Regardless of the validity of either strategy, they were based on quite opposite assessments of the immediate future. Yet, as we have seen, Mao’s estimate of the two key elements in the Chinese party’s experience are armed struggle (armed insurrection) and the united front.

The effect of this combination is paradoxical – a refusal by Maoist groups to collaborate with other working-class parties, a rejection of efforts to unite the class, and a willingness to collaborate with parties of the bourgeoisie. The result is nationalism with a left sectarian rhetoric. Because the strategy is founded upon “principles”, mere experience cannot invalidate it. That Spain was lost to Franco, Indonesia to Suharto or Chile to Pinochet are not relevant to testing the validity of the united front. In fact, there are apparently no circumstances where success is not possible. The prairie is always equally dry and needs only the spark of “Marxism-Leninism” to ignite it. It is this abstract activism in some Maoist groups that gives it the flavour of anarchism: In the Beginning was The Deed.

However, identifying the doctrine does not allow us to comprehend the sheer diversity among the supporters of Mao Tse-tung thought. All do not conform equally to the scheme. Some are drawn to Third Period slogans (to the point of acts of isolated violence), some to the more comfortable patriotism of the Seventh Congress; some to the doctrine of psychological change, with few political implications (but embodying a quasi-Christian ethic of “Serve the People”); others are fascinated by a version of the culture of China, quite independent of the reality facing the majority of Chinese. Around such groups there is an even wider range of thought that seems particularly powerful among the European and American professional classes. A claim to support the Great Helmsman thus does not indicate any predictable political behaviour.

Usually the organized supporters of Mao Tse-tung thought are not tested by the demands of practice. As a result, the most serious questions concern ideological differences that may in no way be related to what the group does. However, in relationship to China’s foreign policy, there are tests few can escape. For example, if the countries of the “intermediate strata” are part of China’s progressive world alliance against the superpowers, is it justifiable to pursue revolution in one of those countries? If it were successful, it might jeopardize the security of the People’s Republic and permit the intervention of “social imperialism”. Yet if China’s foreign policy takes priority in this equation, the group concerned has no other function than to defend the existing ruling class.

China offers little guidance to its supporters abroad. In the early 1960s, it was rumoured that the Chinese party intended to create a new authoritative body to define tactics – a small conference of its supporters was said to have met in Auckland in 1964 – but nothing came of it. China’s leadership has preferred to remain neutral, or at least intervene only to the extent that some are invited to visit Peking, some not. A closer identification might embarrass State-to-State relationships (as has happened in south-east Asia, for example). The obverse of this neutrality is that movements can develop under the banners of Mao Tsetwig thought which are actually inconsistent with it.

Below, three examples are examined to illustrate some of these points.



(i) The Naxalbari Movement in India

In the mid-1960s, India was already in crisis. The optimism which accompanied the early years of independence had faded. Economic development seemed to be permanently jeopardized by the incapacity of agriculture to support industrialization, and of the external balance to support the required volume of industrial imports.

In the last half of the 1960s, real factory wages declined by seven per cent. The central government cut public investment radically, and this afflicted most severely heavy industry and India’s “Ruhr”, the eastern region centred in Calcutta. Between 1965 and 1969, some 100,000 people were sacked in the registered factory sector of the Calcutta Metropolitan District (and, on the trend line of 1951 to 1965, 326,000 jobs were lost). Inflation accelerated and there was a sporadic but severe crisis in basic food supplies. [51]

This is the background to the rapid escalation in class warfare. In the State of West Bengal (of which Calcutta is the capital), the number of workers in dispute as a percentage of all workers in registered factories rose from an average of fourteen to fifteen in the 1950s, to eighteen in 1966, thirty-two in 1967 and 1968, and fully eighty-five in 1969. The figures illustrate imperfectly the persistent militancy of workers in eastern India. For example, at the giant Durgapur steel works there were in 1969 517 gheraos (in a gherao, the workers “lock-in” the management until they concede), or many more than one per working day.

The economic crisis and the class battles placed an intolerable strain on India’s fragile political order. The dominant national party, Congress, split in 1969. The Communist party – with its leading stronghold in Calcutta – had divided into a pro-Moscow party (the Communist Party of India, CPI) and a supposedly pro-Peking party (the Communist Party of India (Marxist), CPM) in 1964-5. The events of 1967-9 again split the CPM, the dominant party in West Bengal, into a majority that retained the name, and a new overtly pro-Mao Tse-tung thought party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), CPML. The CPML embarked on a course of action designed to achieve power by revolution.

The split in the CPM was impelled by the party’s participation in the State government of West Bengal. In 1967, the CPM was a coalition partner (with the CPI and twelve others) in a short-lived administration. It fell in late 1968, and after a short period of central administration (President’s rule), new elections in February 1969 produced a CPM-led coalition. This survived until March 1970 (when another period of President’s rule ensued).

In early 1967, a group of CPM cadres, without the authority of the party leadership, began an agitation for the peasant seizure of land in a district of north Bengal, Naxalbari. Peking identified the “Naxalite” movement as led by a “revolutionary group in the Indian Communist party” (it refused to distinguish between the CPI and the CPM). It was full of praise for the movement, and affirmed confidently that: “So long as the Indian proletarian revolutionaries adhere to the revolutionary line of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung thought and rely on their great ally, the peasants, it is entirely possible for them to establish one advanced revolutionary rural base after another in the huge backward rural areas and build a people’s army of a new type.” [52] Peking gave no evidence that the revolutionaries were proletarian, nor whether bases could be established in modern India; nor did it report a number of other peasant agitations parallel to that in Naxalbari since they were directed by an “unrecognized” leadership (for example, under the Naga Reddy group in Andhra Pradesh). By its praise of the Naxalites and by its criticism of individual “CPI leaders” (for example, the chiefs of the CPM, E.M.S. Namboodiripad and Jyoti Basu), Peking distanced itself from the CPM. However, in general there was little coverage of India in Chinese publications, particularly in 1968 when, apparently, the Indian revolution announced in 1967 disappeared from view. In 1968, the West Bengal State government with its strong CPM contingent (and Jyoti Basu as Home Minister, in charge of police) was obliged to launch a police counter-attack on the Naxalites.

Naxalite publications continued through 1968 to report the spread of the movement far beyond Naxalbari. Indeed, the relative weakening of the movement in Naxalbari was explained by the leadership as the result of the lack of a strong party organization. In November, the first steps were taken to set up a new party and make a formal break with the CPM (but the new organization contained only a small minority of the groups identified as followers of Mao in India). Charu Mazumdar, a former CPI district secretary, became the new leader of the organization. He proclaimed that the “main contradiction” in India was between the peasantry and feudalism. Armed struggle was the priority for the cadres as a method of inciting the peasants to seize the land and crops of landlords. Finally, in March 1969, at an open rally in Calcutta (not in Naxalbari), the CPML was inaugurated.

The new party had, apparently, no programme or constitution. It was to be clandestine, rural-based and armed. Peking gave unstinted public support to the party in general and Charu Mazumdar in particular, even attributing a new agitation in Andhra Pradesh (in the Srikakulam district) to his personal leadership. The Andhra movement, it was said, now included 300 villages, administered by revolutionary councils and committees. [53] An attentive reader in Peking must have been astonished at the speed with which so much had been accomplished.

In fact, the CPML had had some success in maintaining small armed groups in various areas, but had not succeeded in inciting the participation of the peasants in any significant numbers. The cadres remained overwhelmingly Calcutta students. The illegality of the party’s activities obliged it to work in conditions of extreme secrecy which had the effect of blurring the distinction between the party and ordinary bandit gangs, so limiting its appeal to an uncommitted rural population. Police and military units became increasingly successful in pursuing and infiltrating the partisan units, and the party was obliged to be even more secretive. This was no Chingkang mountain region, but densely settled areas, within easy access of district towns; peasant informers, whether eager for police favour or simply to defend themselves and their villages from reprisals, were everywhere. Mazumdar finally concluded that any “open” organization would lead to the domination of the party by rich peasants and “revisionism”, so that all must be secret. Only a completely clandestine group could lead the landless! Apparently the politics of the party and the landless were too weak to withstand revisionism. When the party had secured areas against class enemies, it would become possible to create mass organizations. Peking apparently expressed no disapproval of this change of emphasis.

Later, after the defeat of the CPML, it was argued that Mazumdar’s change of emphasis constituted “neglect of mass organization” and a deviation from Mao Tse-tung thought. Is this correct? As we have seen, in the early days of partisan warfare in China, “mass organizations” were not formed until after the party had secured a stable administration. Indeed, Mao went much further in 1930, suggesting that the party must hold cities before mass mobilization was possible: “Only after wiping out comparatively large enemy units and occupying the cities can we arouse the masses on a large scale and build up a unified political power over a number of adjoining counties. Only thus can we arouse the attention of people far and wide.” [54] The needs of military survival rendered any alternative approach in areas close to enemy-occupied towns wilfully “irresponsible”.

If there is a criticism of Mazumdar’s orthodoxy, it is that – unlike Mao – he pursued a “poor peasant line”. He set the party to incite land seizure against the rich peasantry. By contrast, Mao urged an alliance with the rich peasantry and, during the second United Front period, with the “patriotic landlords and gentry”. Mao’s alliance was to be directed against Japanese imperialism, but Mazumdar had already defined the “main contradiction” as between peasant and landlord. Presumably, Mazumdar would have had to identify foreign capital in India as the main enemy, and endeavour to build a class coalition against it (but that would have made CPML politics indistinguishable in this respect from those of the CPI and CPM).

Peking made no effort to point this out. It continued to offer public support. In late 1969, Mazumdar announced that the party was on the verge of forming a People’s Liberation Army to begin full-scale civil war. By early 1971, the PLA would have begun its triumphal march across the plains of Bengal.

So far as tactics were concerned, Mazumdar and his associates did not restore the earlier emphasis on mass organizations. On the contrary, they moved in the opposite direction: to the “annihilation tactic”. Now it was not so much self-reliant mobile guerilla groups, inciting the peasants to seize land, but individual cadres assassinating particular landlords in the hope that this would set off peasant revolution (February 1969). Peking voiced no criticism, but, on the contrary, stressed that the CPML had “unswervingly taken the correct road of seizing political power by armed force”. Now, Peking Review reported, 100 square miles of Andhra Pradesh were under guerilla control as well as areas in six other States (West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Punjab, Kerala). The Indian government was “tottering”. [55]

In mid-1969, a major change took place. Mazumdar directed the CPML cadres to return to Calcutta. There, the CPM-led government, it was claimed, were imposing a reign of white terror (presumably the CPM had become fascist). Only red terror could defeat it. It is not clear why this change took place: whether it reflected the party’s relative lack of success and increasing police harassment in the rural areas, or the need to replenish the ranks of the cadres from Calcutta. However, the result was open street warfare between the two parties. The CPML proclaimed a small-scale “Cultural Revolution” in educational institutions. Mazumdar described it as the students destroying the superstructure of bourgeois culture while the peasants destroyed the base.

Peking presumably disapproved of the change since it lapsed into silence. For the ordinary Chinese reader, the heroic Indian revolution disappeared without explanation. But in Calcutta, the war between the CPM and CPML gave the national government the opportunity to intervene with military power. Most of the cadres of the CPM L and many of those of the CPM were killed or imprisoned (Charu Mazumdar died or was killed in captivity).

It is said that, in November 1970, Peking did privately inform Mazumdar of certain criticisms, and extracts from this letter have been published in a source sympathetic to the CPML. [56] The excerpts make a number of points of which the most important is that the CPML misunderstood the concept of the United Front and neglected “mass struggle”. Both, it said, must be created in the course of the conquest of power, not afterwards. As noted earlier, this is not true of “mass organizations” in China. The Chinese party stressed “the need for unity between the exploiter and the exploited [those exploiters who are not the main target of the revolution]. The characterization of the bourgeoisie as a whole [as] comprador is wrong.” The letter did not divulge whether this was also true of landlords, nor what political force in India would play the role of the Kuomintang in China in the United Front. The logic of the case, if not the realities, suggested the CPML should ally with the Congress (the line pursued by the pro-Moscow CPI!).

However, our central interest is not the personal role of Mazumdar and the CPML leadership but rather whether the party followed the line of Mao Tse-tung thought in essentials. In that respect, the Chinese party confirmed: “The general orientation of the CPML is correct, but its policy is wrong.” Amid the ruins of the party, there were few to ask how the “general orientation” could be correct and yet invoke such a terrible defeat. Nor did anyone draw political conclusions from the fact that Calcutta’s working class had been through a movement of revolt more massive than that seen in the rural areas, but without the self-proclaimed “proletarian leadership”. India in 1970 was not China in 1930 or 1937 or 1947. There was no Japanese invasion that paralysed the Kuomintang government and permitted the building of the Yenan base. Indian forces in 1970 could reach almost all parts of the country speedily in a way the Kuomintang could not, even before the Japanese invasion. There were no local warlords jeopardizing the power of the national government. Even if there had been a foreign invasion, it seems unlikely that a stable rural base could have been created in areas with a potential for material and political survival. In this scheme of misjudgements, Mazumdar’s errors were of relatively minor significance.

Peking published no lessons. Mrs Gandhi had been given a unique opportunity to re-establish central power in West Bengal, to purge a stronghold of the Left; thousands of the most idealistic and self- sacrificing young people of India had been thrown to destruction for no useful purpose at all; the CPM was defeated for six years. Yet Peking felt no need to correct any errors. The Indian revolution merely disappeared from the pages of Peking Review.



(ii) Portugal in revolution

The fascist régime of Portugal collapsed in April 1974 after more than forty years in power. General Spinola inherited office and was obliged to take steps to restore representative institutions and a free press. Almost immediately, there was an upsurge of popular agitation against what remained of the old order, in particular the secret police. Sections of the army were radicalized and Spinola fell. The creation of militant trade unions, together with massive strikes and demonstrations, pushed politics rapidly to the Left. The Communist party which emerged in April with the largest following among workers found itself holding the centre, with the Socialists and Social Democrats on the Right and a scatter of organizations the Communists called “ultra-left” on the other flank. The party’s aim was to use its worker following as a bargaining counter to secure a firm position among the junior officers of the army, the Armed Forces Movement, which held the balance of power.

The Right, with substantial foreign help (particularly from West Germany, Britain and the United States), reorganized. There were physical attacks on the Communist party and some infiltration of the Socialists. However, the Right’s opportunity to reverse the tide came with an ill-judged and abortive coup by left-wing officers and men in November 1975.

Mao Tse-tung thought was important on the Left, whether as a form of vague emancipatory populism, a formal doctrine of “armed struggle”, or the inspiration of an organization. There were four groups of significance: the Portuguese Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist), PCP(ML) or AOC (Workers’ and Peasants’ Alliance), publishing a paper, Voz de Operaia; the MRPP, with a paper, Luta Popular; FEC(ML); and the UDP (Popular Democratic Union). All four organizations in one form or another accepted the idea of stages: the first task was to build a broad class alliance to carry the country through a “democratic stage”, not a workers’ mass organization for the conquest of power. The MRPP was initially the most extreme – its cadres courted imprisonment and deflounced the Left’s stronghold in the army, COPCON, as simply the old fascist secret police. However, as the Communist party advanced its influence in the Armed Forces Movement, China’s foreign policy con- cans overshadowed both the PCP(ML) and the MRPP – a restoration of fascism became relatively less important than the threat of “social fascism” that is, the pro-Moscow Communists.

In 1975 the situation was highly unstable. The Western powers used their influence to discredit the Communists and, by implication, those further Left. In such circumstances, the PCP(ML) allied with the Socialist party and parties further to the Right (building the United Front), denouncing the rest of the Left as creatures of “social fascism”. There were even reports that members of the PCP(ML) participated in the armed attacks on Communist headquarters in the north. The MRPP described these attacks as the peasantry rising up against “social fascism”. When the luckless Communist cadres at Leiria endeavoured to defend themselves, the party was accused of “shooting down peasants”.

Both organizations adjusted their politics to defeat the Communist party. The PCP(ML) supported the right-wing programme of Major Antunes in the Armed Forces Movement, and the MRPP supported the candidate of the Right, General Eanes, for the presidency. The MRPP worked closely with the Socialist party to split the Communistcoiitrolled trade union federation, the Intersyndical, and organized demonstrations against the general strikes of August and 24 November. Both groups supported the FNLA in Angola.

Both the PCP(ML) and the MRPP were loyal to the thought of Mao Tse-tung, and, as a result, were consistently on the Right of Portuguese politics. They added a tone of left-wing rhetoric to the efforts being made to stifle a revolution. The Communists were not concerned to make a revolution in Portugal, but the attack upon them was designed to make a revolution impossible, and, although neither organization had great influence, the two groups added their weight to the counterrevolutionary movement.

FEC(ML) was a federation of groups that argued that any struggle for power was utopian until the party had been built. They were thus able to combine extremist rhetoric with conservative and cautious practice. In the great events of the time, they chose to abstain. The UDP, on the other hand, the largest of the organizations, diverged from Mao Tsetung thought when this collided with the movement of the Left as a whole. Thus their paper stressed the dangers of “social fascism” but treated the threat of Russian and American domination as equally dangerous (where in fact the United States had a much more powerful position in Portugal). The UDP collaborated with other groups on the Left, but not with the Communists.

In China, Mao Tse-tung thought summarized retrospectively some of the tactics the party was obliged to pursue for survival; the tactics were “flexible” because the party had an independent military base. But in Portugal this historical residue became a straightjacket, inhibiting even the tactics appropriate to survival. The Right might, in certain extreme circumstances, have tried to use the followers of Mao as a disguise for its advance to power; once in power, the followers of Mao would have been annihilated along with the rest of the Left. The only defence for the Left was to build a basis of independent power in a mass workers’ movement, and that was only possible if the politics of winning State power were fused with the real material interests of workers. No mere party, even with clandestine military units, could substitute for this. The FEC and the UDP diverged from the logic of Mao, and operated pragmatically, with resulting muddle and inconsistency.

In all cases, the doctrine of “stages” was a means to insert a separate class interest, to make the party and its leadership the master, not the leader, of the workers. It was a utopian aim since Portuguese workers remained unconvinced that either “stages” or “protracted struggle” were necessary. To choose these was to opt for the victory of the Right. [57]



(iii) The “Intermediate Zone”

In the industrialized countries, there has been no continuing upsurge in political activity. Mao Tse-tung thought has not been tested in practice as it has in India and Portugal. The followers of Mao, organized in a few clearly-defined groups within a broader current of opinion sympathetic to China, have therefore been largely restricted to doctrinal matters.

A recurrent problem is to define the class of country in which the group operates since this determines the “main contradiction”. For Norway’s AKP(ML), “the most important contradiction in the world is between the peoples of the world and imperialism” – that is, between the two superpowers and the rest. Thus the task appropriate to Norway is to build a united front to eliminate American and Russian influence on the basis of “independent national capitalism”. [58]

In Australia, the CPA(ML), a clandestine organization, identifies the country as part of the “third world”, struggling for its national independence. At first the struggle was primarily against American influence, but latterly it has been directed against the threat of Soviet aggression. The change produces a familiar paradox. In 1975 Frazer’s conservative Liberal and Country party replaced Whitlam’s Labour Government. The Frazer administration was more anti-Communist than that of Whitlam, so the “threat of Soviet aggression” loomed larger in its preoccupations. A shift from Left to Right in the domestic scene produced a shift from Right to Left in foreign policy! Vanguard, weekly paper of the CPA(ML), praised Frazer’s foreign policy, even though on other occasions it referred to him as the “fascist Frazer”: “While the result of the coup [against Whitlam] is to have a more realistic foreign policy, it is also bound to lead to attacks upon the living standards and democratic rights of the people.” [59]

China’s foreign policy imposed a comparable paradox on the pro-China KPD and KPD(ML) (the initials of the pro-Moscow German Communist Party are DKP) in West Germany. When China welcomed West Germany into the comity of progressive opposition to the superpowers – receiving with particular hospitality the leader of the German parliamentary Right, Franz Josef Strauss – the supporters of Mao loyally demonstrated for a strengthening of NATO. Indeed, it is said that the KPD(ML) tried to sue the Bundesrepublik Defence Minister, Georg Leber, for neglecting Germany’s military preparedness in the face of the threat of Russian aggression.

The contradiction between external and domestic policy in Maoist eyes was duplicated in France. General de Gaulle’s reassertion of French nationalism abroad was approved while growing “fascization” was detected at home. Attempts to prevent “fascism” in France might have included the agitation of the United Socialist Party (PSU) and other socialist organizations for trade union rights in the French army in 1975. However, supporters of China did not see it in this light. They attacked “subversive activity” in the army, attributing it to the intrigues of the “social fascists” (the French Communist party) as part of Russia’s grand scheme to suborn France.

Maoist groups are reasonably consistent in their orientation on local nationalism and building a coalition of classes. They are less consistent in their attitude to the working class. Some have orientated on the trade union movement – the Swedish KFML (now the Swedish Communist party, SKP), Norway’s AKP(ML) and the Communist Party of Britain (ML). But, for example, the Appel tendency (KAK) in Denmark and Sweden holds that the entire working class of the industrialized countries is a “labour aristocracy”, living off the exploitation of the backward countries. KAK’s activity has therefore been restricted to charitable efforts to help particular backward countries. In the same way, the Danish KF(ML) operated for a long time to spread “friendship” between Danes and China, as did the October League in the United States. Politics fade into a cultural identification with China, but a China charged with fantasy. This view of China is popular among sections of the intelligentsia, it is a kind of daydream, and in no way inconsistent with extreme hostility towards organized labour. The image of the selfless Guardians of the Chinese Communist party, a dedicated élite serving a grateful but untutored mass, has appeal in some professions, for example, medicine and teaching.

Perhaps another section of the professional middle class is drawn to the rhetorical extremism characteristic of La Cause du Peuple in France. In 1969 the paper promised the French bourgeoisie: “And when we want to, all together, we’ll kidnap you, we’ll spit in your throats and hang you – first, by the feet, and if you don’t understand then, by the neck.” The paper was banned in 1970 for advocating murder, theft, pillage and arson.

These side-currents – the one, the daydream of the professional classes, the other, its Nihilist nightmare – reflect social tensions and alienation, but not particularly Mao Tse-tung thought. It is the stage props of the united front, class collaboration, and loyalty to China’s foreign policy which reveal that. Foreign policy was the only area of difficulty, the only point where reality could touch the doctrine. Some prided themselves on following China through thick and thin. Humanité Rouge wired its congratulations to Pakistan’s General Yahya Khan on the slaughter of Bengalis in 1971. Australia’s Vanguard pronounced in 1971 on events in Ceylon: “The people of Ceylon have taken to arms against the great tea plantation owners, against exploitation ... Their efforts to date have revealed the essential capitalist character of Mrs Bandaranaike.”

Shortly afterwards, Peking revealed that China was on the side of Mrs Bandaranaike and the “great tea plantation owners”. Vanguard did not flinch: “We have made a mistake. Chairman Mao has shown us the correct way again.”

The “mistakes” are supremely unimportant, for the audience is tiny, the proclamations no more than shadow play. But the “mistakes” show a method of approaching questions, the same servility to authority that Stalin bred among the Communists. The “Marxist-Leninists” have no independent criteria, no world view founded upon the material existence of a world class, no disciplines rooted in an objective social situation.


The impact of Mao Tse-tung thought on the world has been small by comparison with that of the October revolution. In general, established Communist parties have not been afflicted by severe splits. The greatest impact has been felt by the intelligentsia of the backward countries, particularly in Asia. In conditions of major social upheaval, Mao’s ideas can be important. For example, in the 1973-6 revolt in Thailand, the workers of Bangkok fought alone; those who claimed to be revolutionaries were far away in the hills of the north-east, practising guerilla warfare with a perspective of surrounding Bangkok after twenty years’ struggle, long after many of the workers on strike would have died of old age. Mao Tse-tung thought robbed the Thai movement of a leadership, and ensured Sino-Thai relations were not embarrassed.

The Sino-Soviet dispute did have a liberating effect, but if we restricted our attention to “Marxist-Leninist” groups, the proposition would be doubtful. The supporters of Mao seem most often to have created only new prisons of the mind, new “esoteric wisdoms” to isolate themselves from workers. Not all Mao’s supporters had the stomach to pursue Peking’s logic to its conclusion, the defence of local capitalism. Their instincts rebelled against the transformation of revolution into its opposite. But instincts, like common sense, sensible fellows in their own sitting rooms, as Engels once put it, are not enough in the outside world. In so far as supporters of Mao are loyal to his thought and Peking’s foreign policy, they are counter-revolutionary; in so far as they bend it to fit their instincts as workers, they are confused. No collective self-emancipation can result.




49. Letter to Schweitzer, 13 Oct. 1868, in Correspondence, op. cit., p.251.

50. The Australian Communist, No.57, p.48.

51. For more detail, see Chapter 1, India: Capitalism and Revolution, in my India-China: Underdevelopment and Revolution, Delhi, 1974, pp.3-41.

52. JMJP editorial, 5 July 1967, translated and republished in PR 29, 14 July 1967.

53. PR published Liberation’s article launching the new party, and also one by Charu Mazumdar – see PR 28, 11 July 1969; PR 32, 6 August 1969; PR 44, 31 October 1969; also PR 1, 2 January 1970.

54. January 1930, SW I, p.123.

55. See articles in PR 5, 30 January 1970; PR 7, 13 February 1970; PR 8, 20 February 1970.

56. Frontier, Calcutta, 4 November 1972.

57. See, for further details on Portugal, Tony Cliff, Portugal at the Crossroads, International Socialism 81-2, September 1975, and Tony Cliff and Chris Harman, Portugal: The lessons of the 25th November 1975, London, 1975.

58. Prinsipprogram, February 1973, II, p.12.

59. Vanguard, 29 January 1976.


Last updated on 26.1.2002