Spartacist Canada No. 181
Maoism: Chinese Stalinism
For all its verbal militancy, Maoism is a form of Stalinist class collaborationism, which means subordinating the interests of the working class to the capitalist class enemy. Its ideological origins lie in the Stalinist betrayal of the Russian Revolution of October 1917.
The Russian Revolution, led by the Bolshevik Party of V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky, brought the working class to power. Dedicated to the construction of an international socialist society, the Bolsheviks saw theirs as the first in a chain of workers revolutions that would have to extend to the main imperialist centres. However, the Soviet workers state remained isolated, due mainly to the failure of newly fledged Communist parties to consummate proletarian revolutions elsewhere despite opportunities to do so, crucially in Germany in 1923. The young Soviet workers state inherited deep backwardness from tsarism. That legacy, combined with the isolation of the USSR and the devastating effects of imperialist war and civil war, laid a basis for a nationalist bureaucratic caste centred on J.V. Stalin to usurp political power from the proletariat beginning in 1923-24.
The bureaucracy rested on and derived its privileges from the proletarian property forms of the Soviet degenerated workers state; the gains of the revolution had been betrayed but not overthrown. Against the Bolsheviks’ program of world socialist revolution, Stalin’s new theory of building “socialism in one country” expressed the nationally limited interests of the Kremlin bureaucracy. Under this anti-Marxist dogma, the struggle for the international extension of the revolution was increasingly shelved in favour of an illusory “peaceful coexistence” with world imperialism.
At the same time, the Stalinists resurrected the old Menshevik formula of “two-stage” revolution—the very program that had been discredited in the 1917 Revolution. In practice, this meant postponing socialist revolution to an indefinite future, while in the first “democratic” stage subordinating the proletariat to an allegedly anti-imperialist national bourgeoisie. This program has brought only bloody defeat, expressed clearly in the crushing of the Chinese Revolution in 1927 as the bourgeois-nationalist Guomindang drowned the working class in blood.
By the 1930s the now-Stalinized Communist Party of China (CCP) had, under the leadership of Mao Zedong, become a peasant-based party waging guerrilla war in the countryside. In 1949, under the highly exceptional circumstances of the time—crucially including the existence of the Soviet Union—Mao’s forces seized power from the corrupt and decomposing Guomindang regime and smashed capitalist class rule, a victory for the world’s working class and oppressed. The CCP moved to create a bureaucratically deformed workers state modeled on the Stalinist-ruled USSR.
Early in the 1960s, the growing antipathy between the Chinese and Soviet Stalinists produced an irreparable split. For each bureaucracy, “socialism in one country” meant the promotion of its national bureaucratic caste at the other’s expense. From the outset, our organization denounced the Sino-Soviet split and called for workers political revolution to oust the bureaucracies while defending the collectivized economies.
As the Soviets sought détente with the U.S. imperialists, the Chinese initiated a period of propagandistic militancy. Mao announced that the USSR had been “revisionist” and “social imperialist” since 1956, something no-one else, including Mao himself, had noticed at the time! This transitory rhetorical left turn coincided with the politicization of radical students in the U.S. and Europe. A Spartacist League/U.S. comrade, a former Maoist who was won to Trotskyism in 1971, explained the attraction of Maoism to a new generation of radical youth:
“By the mid 1960s, leftward-moving American students saw the Soviet leadership mainly as seeking a partnership with U.S. imperialism. Following a period of upheaval in the colonial world—the Cuban Revolution, the Algerian independence struggle, turmoil in Latin America, now revolution in Vietnam—Soviet espousal of ‘peaceful coexistence’ was rightly condemned as attempting to conciliate American imperialism at the expense of insurgent colonial peoples. The Soviet bureaucracy offered nothing to those attempting to fight racial oppression and injustice in the U.S.
“The Soviet Union seemed gray, bureaucratic, antiquated and anti-revolutionary. Inspiration came from the Vietnamese Revolution, a guerrilla struggle deeply popular among the peasants in the countryside, echoing other anti-colonial struggles of the time. Antiwar students saw it as the people taking on the imperialist colossus. And it was led by a hard Stalinist party. Radicals, therefore, drew a false distinction: between Third World Stalinism, which appeared to offer an ideological framework to take on imperialism, and the Stalinism of the Soviet Union. Young radicals thought that Vietnam and China proved that Stalinism provided a revolutionary program.”
—“From Maoism to Trotskyism, Recollections of a Participant,” Workers Vanguard No. l038, 24 January
The USSR was North Vietnam’s main military ally. It is thus ironic that despite Hanoi’s obvious alliance with Moscow rather than Beijing, it was the war in Indochina that was seen as proof of the Maoist “people’s war” doctrine and was key to winning New Leftists to Maoism.
The class-collaborationist core of Maoist doctrine has had disastrous results for the workers and oppressed. In Indonesia, the Chinese Maoists instructed the PKI—the largest Communist party in the capitalist world—to maintain at all costs a political bloc with the “anti-imperialist” regime of Sukarno, an ally of Beijing. With the workers politically lulled by the misleadership of Beijing and the PKI, the Indonesian military staged a coup led by General Suharto in 1965, ushering in a horrific bloodbath which saw the slaughter of some one million Communists and their sympathizers.
Not long after Mao died in 1976, most Maoists in North America began to write off China as capitalist; that was despite the fact that the core, state-owned industries that emerged from the 1949 Revolution remained intact. For them, the personality of Mao—especially his messianic and at times radical bombast—was more important to the class character of the Chinese state than its prevailing property forms.
Beijing’s criminal alliance with the U.S. imperialists against the Soviet Union eventually aided the destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state in 1991-92, a historic defeat for the workers of the world. Today China remains a bureaucratically deformed workers state, a society ruled by a petty-bourgeois stratum of Stalinist bureaucrats who derive their privileges from the collectivized economy. At the same time, they conciliate imperialism and pursue no shortage of their own capitalist ventures. Now, as under Mao, we call for the unconditional military defense of China against imperialism and internal counterrevolution. Further, we hold that the defense and extension of the gains of the 1949 Revolution require the fight in China for a proletarian political revolution, which would oust the bureaucracy and replace it with a workers and peasants government committed to revolutionary internationalism.