MAO IS THE THE HOUR YET AGAIN?
Why it can be countered should anyone bother with Maoism these days as it is nothing more than a phenomenon from a distant past with no relevance? True, it has no relevance and indeed never had, though there are now many indications that something of its shadow – if not more – is returning, as a disintegrating Leninism, a prominent feature of Italy throughout the 1970s, again finds breathing space. It is a phenomenon predicated on the utter collapse of post modernist vacuity underpinned by the crises of an almost fatally wounded economic neo-liberalism together with statist Keynesianism. Maoism is again finding an echo amongst those at the sharp end especially racial minorities in Europe / America and possibly elsewhere, as it also has acquired a significant toehold in universities. We are putting together a critique of this neo-Maoism noting its similarities but more importantly emphasising its cleverly acquired differences in the way it has purloined aspects of revolutionary insight (without naming origins) trickily turning them inside out. This all takes time but meanwhile we include two significant contributions to the revolutionary critique of Maoism, a translation from the Portuguese of Social Struggles in China by Joao Bernardo together with four texts by the Minus group from Hong Kong all of which are fresh to the English speaking part of the globe.
Intro to the Minus Group
Competition with America?
Left: A Giant Mount Rushmore-like sculpture (Right) of Mao as cross between Byron, Che and James Dean in Changsa, Orange Island Park in Hunan Province, China. Gigantisms? Eat your heart out Antony Gormley!
1. THE REBELLION OF EDUCATED YOUTH IN CHINA
2. THE FOUR MODERNISATIONS AND THE USE OF THE TECHNOBUREAUCRACY
3. LIFE IN THE COUNTRYSIDE AND PEASANTS DISCONTENT
4. WOMEN AND SEX IN CHINA
These four previously unknown lost texts on China displayed here were put together by the Minus group in Hong Kong in the 1970s. The group called themselves 'Minus' referencing the yearly countdown to George Orwell's 1984, the year of ultimate Big Brother totalitarianism ending on that famous hacked into English ditty: "Under the spreading chestnut tree / I sold you and you sold me", suggesting a free market totalitarianism as much as its state version. In fact a world totalitarianism now clearly visible on the horizon is far subtler and deadlier than anything Orwell initially envisaged.
Be that as it may, Minus in its heyday dealt with very significant moments, via often telling asides and recounting truthful incidents, relating to the internal history of modern China post the takeover of Mao Zedong's guerrilla army in 1949 up to 1978. This information was doubly important as it concerned a time when it was extremely difficult for any westerner to set foot in China and most information received was largely based on hearsay gleaned from the occasional visa-sanctioned journalist. These accounts published here are however more telling because the people who put them together weren't for a moment fooled by any aspect of Leninist /Maoist ideology nor did they fall back on any kind of neo-liberal free market ambience grimly taking shape on Anglo/American horizons. Moreover it was never the brief of the Minus group to deal in detail with the totality of The Maoist phenomenon and they hardly ever really went into the bureaucracy's outrageous reactionary foreign policy including the massacre of hundreds of thousand 'communist' insurgents in Indonesia in 1965 right up to the massacre of a Trotskyist inspired rebellion in Ceylon (later renamed Sri Lanka) in 1971.
The Minus individuals, - no doubt on purpose seeing information was lacking – preferred to deal with brutal initiatives (which they did superbly) like the initial post 1949 Land Reform Movement, the Hundred Flowers campaign, on to the Great Leap Forward, The Peoples' Communes, Learning from Tachai, The Proletarian Cultural Revolution, Sans zi ya bao, the Three Major Differences, The Rusticated Youth, The Four Modernisations, and on the level of everyday life, gender 'changes' and the position of women in Chinese society etc. Their general backdrop analysis relied on an undertow of critique one related to primitive accumulation product of an underdeveloped state capitalism relying somewhat on the theories of Socialisme ou Barbarie in France especially Cajo Brendel's longish pamphlet Theses on the Chinese Revolution, despite the fact the individuals associated with the Minus group tended to refer themselves as "anarchists" and not "ultra leftists". Indeed the following texts written at times in a certain wooden English (possibly some were translated from one of the Chinese languages) were handed on to us, mainly through Phil Meyler who was living in Portugal at the time having completed that significant book, Portugal: The Impossible Revolution. Moreover face to face contact became possible because some of the Minus group managed to travel on a pittance to Europe in the autumn of 1979 basically to attend a conference on self-management in Italy but also to somewhat oversee the translation and publication of their texts in Portuguese and Spanish through the auspices of anarchist periodicals like A Ideia, Voz Anarquista and A Batalha plus the text Women and Sex in China by Flora Chan according to a letter from Minus individuals, may have been published in Solidaridad Obrera the Spanish CNT anarchist union journal.
Around the same time we met a couple of the Minus people in London who stayed with us for a few days as we had suggested we could print them through our proposed publishing outfit funded by our scam on Barclays Bank only alas for our venture to fall through! Unfortunately these texts had been reproduced on a primitive photo-copier (re the poor state of the technology available at the time) and were at times very difficult to read if not at times downright indecipherable. We have tried to make up for this as best as we can often using magnifying glasses to make out very faded sentences etc, as the whole caboodle was painstakingly retyped. As previously suggested the individuals around Minus were poor and had to ask us for money to cover copying and postage costs, thus their dedication to the truth of what really was happening inside China was exemplary. These gals and guys were definitely not on the make! They were even hoping that these essays would be published in English in Amsterdam and in a letter suggested "the essays might be retyped and reduced in size on a canon-copy machine and duplicated in offset for five hundred copies for distribution and circulation in Europe" and whether this happened or not, we simply don't know. It seems two of the texts published below were translated into Dutch and most likely were published in Holland in Solidariteit, an occasional journal put out by the International Solidarity Fund F.I.S. Inevitably in the course of wide ranging conservations we showed the Minus people the unfinished translation of Joao Bernardo's Social Struggles in China and they were more than interested. (See accompanying text elsewhere on the RAP web).
As for today any references to the Minus group on the Internet is very limited saying little beyond the fact the group disbanded sometime in the early 1980s – most likely before the crucial year (for them) of 1984. The Anarchist Library has reproduced Three Essays on the New Mandarins by Lu Yu See and in February 2011, Libcom.org put out A Group Profile on the Minus Group. The only significant Internet contribution which combines critique with interesting facts comes from the Californian, Bureau of Public Secrets from October 1978 which dwells somewhat on the limitations of Cajo Brendel's self management notions obviously preferring the situationists, The Explosive Point of Ideology in China, while acknowledging the latter tract was included in a Minus affiliated book, The Revolution is Dead, Long Live the Revolution and something of a hotchpotch as it also included some pro Mao Zedong articles. But as to what happened to these perceptive individuals from Minus alas the Internet reveals nothing. Maybe they became progressively disillusioned with their efforts realising they were having little impact on the 'new' China as the Great Wall caved in to an increasing 'western' economic liberalisation model – in fact the inevitable outcome to its initial primitive accumulation - and its concomitant banal pursuit of money alongside a lifestyle of puerile commodified excess fuelled by a narcissistic passionless hedonism devoid of Eros and genuine creativity, and nothing more than a painful ersatz pastiche of the West. At the same time much of China particularly swathes of the rural areas haven't changed all that much from the backdrop scenes the Minus group portray so in a sense China is a contrasting montage of both the new landscape and the Maoist landscape of a few decades ago. The bottom line of course is that both are part and parcel of each other, the former merely the precursor of the latter "preparing the coming of "market socialism" by destroying the pre-capitalist forms of agriculture and engaging in forced, autarchic industrialization" (Loren Goldner). Nonetheless, as the articles published here show, Minus was well aware of the initial stages of market capitalisation analysing well what was taking place (see especially The Four Modernisations and the use of the Technobureaucracy).
On the other hand contrary to accepted beliefs, a Chinese bureaucracy endlessly shrouded in secrecy also listens to its critics, often attentively, (mostly after having murdered them) and there's little doubt that the efforts of the Minus group would have probably been mentioned along with others (see comments below) even within the hallowed recesses of the politbureau. On a more general level, the bureaucracy over the last thirty years or so has taken careful note of the calamities afflicting Russia and Eastern Europe and they weren't going to make the same mistakes knowing that a complete denunciation of past crimes can bring the entire house down; better to give and take a little and for certain they didn't want to deal with a Chinese Polish Solidarity-type union. Better to pull the real sting of say the Minus group and accept that Mao's Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution were to some extent disastrous at the same time as the bureaucracy - doing the exact opposite - has managed to make the figure of a sidelined Mao iconic and majestic. Set within his holy shrine of a mausoleum Mao more and more has been reinvented as a romantic Hollywood film star, even a Byronic hero with a touch of Beethoven, James Dean and as photogenic as Che Guevara's now famous image. Through such stylish media manipulation and trickery among other gestures it was to be hoped that absolute Party rule could ensure continuity ad infinitum. Banjoed, maybe all the Minus group could do it seems was crawl away and die outsmarted by an inscrutable,fiendishly clever bureaucracy?
In a way Minus based in Hong Kong was fortunate meaning the full force of state repression on the Chinese mainland was never able to come down hard on them. Others were not so lucky as Loren Goldner has so well outlined in an article on the new Maoism in the November 2012 web magazine, Insurgent Notes: "In such a situation, [the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s] where revisionist rule was to be replaced by "people's power", things got out of hand with some currents who took Mao's slogan "It is right to rebel" a bit too far, and began to question the whole nature of CCP rule since 1949. In these cases, as in the "Shanghai Commune" of early 1967, the People Liberation Army (PLA) had to step in against an independent formation that included radicalized workers." (Meaning thousands were shot down in cold blood –RAP note)
"Perhaps the most interesting case of things "going too far", along with the brief Shanghai Commune, before the army marched in was the Shengwulian current in Mao's own Hunan province. There, workers and students who had gone through the whole process produced a series of documents that became famous throughout China, analyzing the country as being under the control of a "new bureaucratic ruling class". While the Shengwulian militants disguised their viewpoint with bows to the "thought of Mao tse-tung" and "Marxism-Leninism", their texts were read throughout China, and at the top levels of the party itself, where they were clearly recognized for what they were: a fundamental challenge to both factions in power. They were mercilessly crushed".
"Further interesting critiques to emerge from the years of the Cultural Revolution were those written by Yu Luoke, at the time an apprentice worker and, later, the manifesto of Wei Jingsheng, a 28-year-old electrician at the Beijing Zoo on the "Democracy Wall" in Beijing in 1978. Yu's text was, like Shengwulian's, diffused and read all over China. It was a critique of the Cultural Revolution's "bloodline" definition of "class" by family background and political reliability, rather than by one's relationship to the means of production. Yu was executed for his troubles in 1970. The Democracy Wall, which was supposed to accompany Deng Xiaoping's return to power, also got out of hand and was suppressed in 1979."
Moreover, we must never forget the accounts of the Sinologist Frenchman, Prof' Simon Leys on the hell of the Cultural Revolution as revealed in books like the Chairman Mao's New Clothes, Chinese Shadows, The Burning Forest, and Broken Images and contemporaneous with the efforts of the Minus group. The brilliant Situationist Rene Vienet who was engaged in such exemplary research coupled with audacious assaults on Mao's polemics – resulting in exile from China for sometime - encouraged the shy and retiring Leys to write his searing books while Vienet himself unfortunately nosedived becoming a money grubber and friend of the son of Chiang kai-chek, the former nationalist leader of China before Mao took over. In the late 1970s whilst recognizing Leys important contribution we did dispute some of Leys inclinations in our Chinese Takeaway. Western Maoism now on the RAP web picking up on his (perhaps) overdone emphasis on wanton vandalism, a subject academics are never very erudite on having little visceral sympathy with the subject! For sure the destruction of the beauty of old China was dreadful together with their banal crude attacks on 'western' decadent art which needless to say, had nothing in common with the lucidity emanating from the "art is dead" theorists largely ensconced in Europe and America. But vandalism (a kind of juvenile delinquency against things both concrete and ideological) was also the surface excuse Mao used to bring down the Peoples' Liberation Army on the genuine revolutionary insurgents especially the great example of the Shanghai Commune of 1967 and a point which another professor, name of Alain 'Bad' Badiou in France has recently resuscitated as necessary in his renewed defence of Mao Zedong!
One final point: We have published these texts sticking to the original Chinese spelling of the people and place names at that time. Thus Mao Tse-tung is not Mao Zedong and Peking is not Beijing..... Of course much of this information may seem dated but is still fundamental to any understanding of the basis of modern China and for all those discredited 'revolutionary' illusions about Mao which are again powerfully peddled (now that the lights are about to go out all over Europe and America along with the rest of the world) by leftists of all kinds not least the NLR / Verso publishing outfit. This scenario must be read against the backdrop of a basically smoke and mirrors capitalist take-off the likes of which the world has never seen even though based largely on incredible debt financed schemes the likes of which the world has also never seen. As Robert Kurz said just before he died, "In a manner that is unprecedented in the history of capitalism, the future creation of surplus-value is already mortgaged. Capitalism has already used up its future to such an extent, that a recovery is no longer possible." It is a situation that cannot continue anywhere and night will almost certainly too fall on China. In response the Chinese people will probably explode big time if the relatively small scale disturbances erupting the length and breadth of that vast country - getting ever more threatening - are anything to go by.
Intro to Joao Bernardo; plus a little bit about his life and publications..........
The accompanying Lucha de Classes en China is an early very significant longish text (1977) by Joao Bernardo which was published in Portugal in 1977 immediately after the publication of his seminal books, Para una Teoria del Modo de Producción Comunista (Towards a Theory of the Communist Mode of Production) and Marx Crítico de Marx. Epistemologia, Classes Sociais e Tecnologia em "O Capital", 3 vols. (1977)
Undoubtedly Joao's Social Struggles in China ranks alongside the two most important previous statements those of Cajo Brendel's Theses on the Chinese Revolution.....and the situationists, Explosive Point of Chinese Ideology both roundly condemning the antics of the Maoist regime in China especially the episode called the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. More essentially Joao's text - and with amazing accuracy - presciently foretells of the great Chinese 'capitalist' explosion that was to take place over the coming decades, one that over the past ten years or so has accelerated at breakneck speed as it heads for the rocks. Again we were supposed to publish this text in the late 1970s in London – hence Joao's special introduction to the English edition – but as stated elsewhere the funding for our project fell through as Barclays bank discovered our cunning plan! We felt bad and guilty about this having probably let good people down so better late than never in correcting past wrongs. Again we must empahsise the obvious and suggest it is highly unlikely disintegrating Leninist outfits like Verso (together with their largely watered down situationist hangers on) are ever likely to publish such stuff.
Joao Bernardo scandously still remains a relatively unknown figure in the English speaking part of the globe despite having written numerous books in Portuguese oriented around an ultra leftist Marxist perspective which roundly describes the former so-called 'communist' regimes as state capitalist entities a description that doesn't come via some form of updated Trotskyism but has its origins in Karl Korsch, Pannekoek and Gorter augmented with a thorough re-reading of all three volumes of Das Kapital, the Grundrisse, etc. We have of course published reminiscences about the guy and a more recent text Seven Thesis on the Present Crises by Joao Bernardo is on the RAP web.
Initially Joao came to maturity under the last days of the fascist Salazarismo regime in Portugal. Involved in violent student revolts before the overthrow of the regime in 1974 he was heavily persecuted having being a member of the Portuguese Communist party then leaving to help rebuild a Maoist military organization which had been destroyed by the PIDE (the fascist political police). Forced to go underground in Portugal finally Joao fled to Paris where he remained until 1974 initially joining M. Leninist groups with a heavy Mao Zedong bias. In turn Joao became disillusioned with the Maoist set ups - though in the meantime having collected much valuable information about the shit going down in China - rapidly becoming more radicalized moving towards the ultra left, acquainting himself with the situationists and others. On returning to Portugal after the Revolt of the Captains he became one of the fulcrum figures in the excellent Combate group in the heady years of the Portuguese Revolution in the mid 1970s. (Again an account of this is on the RAP web)
Joao Bernardo moved from Lisbon to Brazil in 1984 where later he became part of the Pass Word group surviving through visiting lectureships in Brazilian universities as well as becoming a free instructor to the CUT union which formed in 1983 in opposition to the then military regime has now become the biggest TU federation in Brazil and although keeping a certain distance from the ruling Workers' Party is nonetheless trapped within the confines of trades unionism. Never acquiring a proper university tenancy Joao remained according to Loren Goldner, "an independent intellectual connected to no university,[which meant] he was entirely free from the kinds of institutional patronage, career pressures and faddism (most notably, in the past two decades, the post-modernist vulgate)...." As well as writing a big tome on Fascism, more recently Joao Bernardo's books have concentrated at length on analyzing the state from an ultra leftist perspective in The State, the Silent Multiplication of Power (1998) and farther back in history, Power and Money. From Personal Power to the Impersonal State in the Seigneurial Regime, V-XV Centuries, (3 volumes) in the late 1990s. This massive book comprising over 2000 pages will one suspects, never get translated into English dealing as it does with medieval times from the 5th to the 15th centuries and which throughout insists on presenting for the first time in huge detail the social relations of the seigneurial regime. Recently in 2011 Joao gave a talk entitled Marx, Bakunin and the Paris Commune which can be viewed as an Internet Vimeo film http://vimeo.com/30374567 and a most interesting commentary it is too.
Stuart and David Wise, Autumn 2012