By Zak Brown
Summary of my points:
1. Protracted People’s War is not Universal.
2. Speculating on universal revolutionary strategy hurts the project of revolution.
3. Developing new theories of revolution requires us to challenge theoretical continuities, investigate, and ask new questions.
4. Asking new questions does not absolve the project of revolution; its a prerequisite to the project itself.
5. What is applicable regarding Protracted People’s War can be synthesized into a strategy of a new type.
It was very refreshing to see JMP take notice to my criticism and the dialogue I hoped to invoke. In that respect, I believe my initial criticism accomplished its goal. In the few days after its publishing, we saw a growing interest in both PPW as a strategy and the question of revolution as a whole. These are good developments, I think we can all agree.
Unfortunately, the following response was released in a manner not exactly “timely”. I intended for the piece to be published a few days after JMP’s response, to maximize the engagement; however, work piled up very quickly and what was supposed to be prompt became protracted (how ironic).
Nonetheless, we should thank JMP for his consideration and response which I believe was both engaging and fair. With that being said, nothing he advocated was particularly surprising (which isn’t bad itself) and, as I hope to show, further advances my own line of thought.
There is some looming question as to the methodology I employed in the original piece. Was I spreading the question thin? Was I approaching the work in a wrong light? Did my own thought procedure demonstrate incoherence?
Perhaps, however, not in the light that JMP and his supporters might suggest. The reason I selected the “Refusal of Strategy” was twofold. First, because it makes several claims, not limited to the Universality of Protracted People’s War, which I find disagreeable (for example, our discussion regarding what “qualifies” a revolutionary organization). Second, because his work was casual. It was not the deep, well-qualified posturing of a wouldbe theorist. It was JMP giving his thoughts on an issue he found to be important. This stylistic quality opens a space for dialogue in a way that the dreary and academic rambling which so often pollutes this question simply cannot. A space where ideas can be made plain and minds can be actually influenced. In this sense, I am engaging JMP as the subject par excellence for the Universality of Protracted People’s War; a supporter, not a theorist; a thoughtful contemporary, not an academic peer; a radical, not a self-aggrandizing revolutionary. This element to our dialogue is important and offers a rather unique element to our discussion (in specific) as opposed to more formal engagements between theorists or with the theory itself.
Furthermore, it’s important to note that I explicitly had little desire to either describe or engage the theory itself. In the first few pages of my criticism, I abdicate the specific delineation of what Protracted People’s War is to its supporters and theorists (RCP-PCR etc.). I never intended to actually engage the theory itself in a way which was to disprove its specific efficacy within the First World (although this became inevitable). If one will recall, I chose instead to engage the universality of this notion, in particular, and how that relates to the broader question of revolution.
Regardless, I was forced to at least passingly engage the theory and its efficacy. The result of which was neither comprehensive nor adequate. Indeed, most of what I said had been said before and in much greater depth and eloquence. For example, Kasama offered a more specific engagement with the theory itself (a good criticism, I might add) which I alluded to prior to my own engagement. I did not come out and endorse the criticism made by Kasama or others simply because I do not find any of those criticisms to be entirely adequate or necessarily pertinent to my original point. However, I did not want to detract from their criticisms or the discussion as a whole, so I simply opted to make my own soap-box performance and move along.
Some RCP-PCR supporters accused me of “columbusing” the arguments made by Kasama and others. I think that is quite an unfair appraisal considering I never claimed those to be my own. However, the fact that I will not specifically endorse the criticism made by other organizations does not amount to “columbusing” even if I build upon or reference those points. Our engagements are similar yet very much distinct and its that distinctness I hope to highlight and build off of, not wallow in waters already treaded.
As JMP said himself, his piece is more of a “rant”. My piece was a rant from the other side of the gallery. In general, I think these “rants” are useful in their own right and I would challenge a critic to prove otherwise.
The following is a point-for-point engagement with JMP’s response article.
1. Dissent and Criticism
Is intention the same as its consequence? JMP claims that his interpretation does no silencing with regard to Leftist circles and if anything only highlights the apathetic, do-nothingism of some “Leftists” who scoff at PPW without investigation or deliberation. However, I would challenge this as being the “actual” account of things. Perhaps in some spaces this may be the case, but my point was not limited to JMP or even the RCP-PCR as a whole. My point transcends those political trends within Maoism and points to a larger more malignant problem within Marxism which is the elevation of the One True over the heathen disciplines; the always-already correct position over those delinquent and infantile interpretations; in this case, PPW over those who would suggest otherwise.
Whether or not he intends to do so, the sort of general elevation of this position over consideration of others will always trade off with the consideration of the other. Some will consider this explanation to be a simplification or even overtly “liberal” (gasp). However, perhaps that is simply a reflection of the logic internalized to protect the always-already correct against dissent? That the dissenter must be ostracized and cast into either a category of the irrational or the blatant enemy (the liberal). Could it simply be that there is criticism to be made which doesn’t disqualify the dissent from the camp of revolution, even if that criticism is primarily one of methodology?
The expected criticism of my position would follow, “how can this be logically extended considering it would force us to elaborate not only revolutionary strategy, but Marxism as a whole?”. I think this question itself illuminates the problem we have as Marxists confronting those interpretations which are not within the realm of the always-already correct. I would much rather engage those criticisms of Marxism, as well as alternative explanations, as being fully rational and conceivable before pigeonholing. If Marxism cannot be proven more viable or preferable, as a way of understanding and explaining the state of things, in its own right, then perhaps it shouldn’t be considered at all. In addition, it is often hostile and unforgiving criticism which has enabled Marxism to overcome its own barriers. Consider the importance of Black Liberation in informing our ‘race politics’ or Second Wave Feminism in challenging the ortho-marxist interpretation of Patriarchy. This is how our system grows and it is one of our greatest assets as Marxists that we can incorporate these criticisms into the science of Historical Materialism. If anything qualifies our method as scientific, it would be the consideration of alternative accounts and data. What I believe JMP is suggesting, or at least the implication of his suggestion via the comparison to a broader trend, is the closing of dissent and at worst the death of Marxism.
JMP took issue with my portrayal of his attitude and in specific my use of the phrase “lashing out”. However, I do not see this as being problematic or as being a negative portrayal of JMP. If indeed what he claims is true, that these critics proceed with arrogance and misunderstanding, then all manner of “lashing out” would seem only appropriate. I don’t see this as being a violation of the civility I suggested in my initial piece. Furthermore, my entire point was not simply limited to JMP himself. Again, I am speaking of a certain hegemony within Maoist and Marxist circles which I find to be undeserved or at least worth challenging. This is a broader topic which even in the context of a “rant” such as ours deserves thoughtfulness.
2. Refusing Deliberation
This specific discussion has become rather paradoxical and perhaps this is partly my fault, so allow some clarification. My point is twofold. First, most organizations do confront the problematic of strategy they simply do so in a way which is wholly compatible with the ambiguity of our social condition in the First World. I make this very clear and even explore the ways in which this has allowed the “normativity of insurrection” to persist and blossom. Second, the actuality of PPW as presented by the RCP-PCR does little to advance revolutionary science in that regard. Certainly, we could qualm and quibble about the hypothetical situations in which PPW could land the revolutionary struggle. In fact, that seems to be the focus of any discussion on the topic (refer to Kasama’s article and my notes there). My points are concerned with the immediacy of revolutionary action and theory/practice. Not what becomes the unfettered possiblities of action but what is specifically engendered through a theory. So what is then engendered through PPW as presented by the RCP-PCR? Nothing.
And that’s the whole point.
By mediating political action through the question of “how do we accomplish PPW”, nothing is significantly altered in our present context. Sure, “political considerations are extended into the military realm” but what does that really mean? Are we not still attending the same protests and study groups? Certainly, one could argue that this shift is occurring in the subterranean pathways of Party building etc. But until that begins to materialize as a divergent strategy we have to consider this “science” to be nothing dissimilar from the others. What this should clearly demonstrate is that something about this strategy is not working. Something intrinsic to it is incompatible with our current situation. A fair and well-rounded analysis would perhaps have us rethinking our strategy.
What is really problematic, indeed our greatest point of contention, is how this universality absolves the question of revolutionary strategy which I suggest should be approached through a radical inclusiveness (refer to the end of my original piece). Again, my position against the UPPW does not dissolve the question of “how do we make revolution?”. In fact, it contextualizes that question to concrete social conditions and gives primacy to the immediacy of action rather than the immediacy of mediation.
Let’s provide an analogy to digest these points. Imagine a river and all the fish within it. Big fish, small fish, fish of different species etc., all traveling in different directions. However, they are all fish and they are all in the same river. It’s a fairly audacious claim to make – for one of these fish to make – that “I am different” when she is still a fish in the same river as every other. As corny as it may seem, this is how the sort of demanding presentation by the RCP-PCR and proponents of UPPW appears when they claim their action is different from the rest. To put it plainly, if it were different from the rest then it would actually be different from the rest.
JMP claims that UPPW is precisely that (different from the rest) considering it came out of liberal degeneration within Canadian radical groups. However, by that same logic, we might consider Bob Avakian’s New Synthesis to be worth considering giving the origin of the RCP and its relationship to the left within the United States. Simply because it emerged as a protest to inefficacy or “revisionism” does not mean it is inherently unique or preferable.
My points on ambiguity were not a side note, they were critical to the development of my position as a whole. The general and historically observed ambiguity of our social condition makes any endeavor into the mist rather superfluous. This is why insurrectionary theory has become the sort of “defacto” revolutionary strategy within the far-left. Not that the endeavor itself (a concrete revolutionary strategy) is doomed or that there is nothing concrete to be deduced, but rather that we should temper any endeavor with an inclusiveness which accounts for such ambiguity; an inclusiveness which can adapt moreso than the limitations of “mediating subjective conditions”. A certain inclusiveness which is necessarily excluded by the very universality of Protracted People’s War as presented by the RCP-PCR and others. If JMP wants to argue (and he does) that the situation is not as ambiguous as it seems or it can be “demystified” by the correct engagement of revolutionary theory (UPPW), then he needs to demonstrate this in ways other than referencing RCP-PCR texts which are not as decisive as one might hope. Frankly, what is discussed in the RCP-PCR texts (including How We Intend to Fight) is not a distinguished account of concrete strategy, tactics, or doctrine. Instead, what is discussed is rather well-founded platitudes for the politically and militarily apt. Not as if these things are inconsequential themselves. But for someone with a solid background in Maoism or revolutionary strategy, none of it is very “novel”, to say the least. All of which should leave us asking, has the RCP-PCR actually proven the concreteness of their strategy? Have similar proponents of PPW in the US done the same?
3. I Hate Historical Materialism
Drawing into question my own understanding of universality and particularity is a rather obtuse way of addressing the points I made. I do understand how the two function and how the universal is mediated through the particular. However, there are a few points to be made here. First, I believe that UPPW abuses this concept by attempting to “mediate” what is precisely not universal or at least is detrimental to be conceived of as being universal. As I pointed out, the distinction between the universality of both PPW and insurrection is entirely arbitrary by the standard of JMP. The particularity of one which supposedly mediates the application of the entire theory is valid and in another instance indicative of the theory’s own shortcomings (e.g. Failure of insurrection in Germany). Is this the precedent which should be set for our own understanding? One marred with inconsistency and arbitrary conclusions?
Are my remarks “stepping outside of Historical Materialism”? Perhaps; however, perhaps this is not a bad thing. When writing criticisms I don’t necessarily police my own reasoning with respect to the “science” of one school or another. I simply write what appears to be plain and certain. This is why I chose to paint JMP’s reasoning as the “religious sort”. In addition, stepping “outside” of Historical Materialism allows us to discern what precisely is a Historical Materialist position, method, or analysis. Although I do believe that my remarks have some lineage within Historical Materialism and Marxism, considering the great lengths that have been traveled to delineate Marxism as a method not as a dogma.
The point of my Deleuze quote was very simple and shouldn’t be overcomplicated: whereas some would highlight those wrong answers to right questions, Deleuze highlights “wrong questions” themselves. For example, we should not focus on the potential answers to a “generalized theory of revolution” but instead interrogate this question of a “generalized theory of revolution”; whether or not this question is relevant, applicable, constructive, or detrimental to our struggle are the questions we should be answering.
Returning to the question of Historical Materialism (specifically, “ruptures and continuities”), JMP leaves himself open to a few points. First, if “history is not made as we please” then we have to wonder what sort of history JMP and the RCP-PCR are trying to project. Are they arguing that the “informed possibilities” which govern the “open spaces” of history are now determined as being those favorable to Protracted People’s War? If not, then how can he argue that these “informed possibilities” are anything but discretionary given the supreme correctness of Protracted People’s War and the unique element of the masses? It’s quite a muddled and inconsistent position to claim. Second, while the generations of the dead rest upon the living (a la Marx), JMP has allowed the generations of dead theorists to rest upon his own understanding (in a damaging sense). The problem is that JMP and others do not present the ‘Canadian experience’ as being a fundamental rupture with revolutionary experiences of previous epochs; an “exception” or “particularity” wherein a universal theory can be extrapolated. Rather, the entire point of UPPW is to place this struggle squarely within a lineage of revolution (following RIM) and even to contrast this struggle with the “exemplary” struggles of other Maoists (Peru, the Phillippines, Nepal, India). This is a continuity of an existing system before it can be a rupture with any established reasoning. I am not arguing that “everything is rupture” I am arguing that revolution is rupture and the strategy presented by the RCP-PCR forbids such developments both in theory and practice.
JMP’s attempt to contrast the general notion of PPW with state theory, as presented by Lenin, is rather weak. Are we now going to suggest that the UPPW is of equal practical/theoretical/empirical validity as the foundational reasoning of Lenin? I would caution any proponent of UPPW in contrasting their theory to the universal knowledge regarding the State and Party given the historical absence of the former to the prevalence of the latter.
However, it should also be said that I long for the day that Lenin is proven wrong. That we discover his reasoning to not be universal but only particular to some circumstance. Perhaps we are on the verge of discovering that within some respects. Why anticipate our incorrectness? Because this is the only way that Marxism as a “working knowledge” can advance. What sort of science is not constantly revising and proving wrong the conjectures of previous theoreticians? A science which is not a science but a dying and esoteric dogma.
Finally, in contrast to what is suggested by JMP, my methodology does not simply investigate the ruptures, contingencies, and inconsistencies of a system. My methodology investigates the system as a whole which can only be done by exploring the limits of that system; the areas in which the system begins to disintegrate and collapse on itself are those spaces where history can transpire. What is a central principle of Historical Materialism? That the progression of history proceeds unevenly. This unevenness is due to the “contingencies” I constantly mention. The sum of struggle between social forces is not entirely predictable. Those moments when it is not (predictable) is when the “real” state of things appears and a “working knowledge” can be ascertained. Exploring these limits, ruptures, and inconsistencies is indeed the only way our knowledge established through Historical Materialism can become a working knowledge; a knowledge self-conscious to the limits of its own usefulness.
4. A False Universal
“Rather, I think the successes of a latter world historical revolution, when read back on former moments of world historical revolution, produce universalities in the past by explaining what could not have been explained at that historical conjuncture.” – JMP
This is rather irrelevant to the discussion and I’m curious how this is supposed to explain my criticism which was that one strategy over another was prioritized as being universal and claimed a science through a retrospective interpretation, not by its actual universal success or demonstrable qualities.
His argument from an appeal to Lenin, once again, is weak in this context and a historical conflation. First, Lenin’s theory of the state has been demonstrated historically, at a far more positive efficacy than PPW. Second, and perhaps this is controversial, but even Lenin’s theory is universal in the sense that a “truth is truth for the moment”; until a particular situation reveals an exception then we have to reformulate as we have to with PPW. I think every Marxist would agree that Marxism is a method, not a dogma or collection of universal truth-values to carry around in our esoteric knapsack. Third, Lenin’s understanding has been critically evaluated and modified both theoretically and historically as conditions differentiated. Unless, of course, JMP is going to argue that the Chinese Dictatorship of the Proletariat was a theoretical equal to its earlier Russian counterpart. Difference is important.
Furthermore, likening PPW to the DOTP is akin to likening strategy with socialism. Socialism, as we know categorically, is a theoretical ‘time and place’ understood as the ‘unity of opposites’ between a dying capitalism and rising communism. A comparison between is rather ridiculous. What JMP hopes to argue is that because revolution is necessitated it follows that PPW must be universal. The problem is that he conflates the necessity of revolution with the actuality of PPW which he argues based upon the universality of the latter.
We should avoid a discussion of Liebknecht and the understanding of the Russian Revolution as being an “untheorized PPW”. However, there are a few things to say in response to his arguments here.
1. With regard to the “emancipation of the proletariat” and its “new method of warfare”, which proletariat? JMP has even himself argued against this totalizing notion of a universal proletariat by which to draw theory and practice so it’s rather troubling to see him use this argument as a guarantee of UPPW. Sure, the struggle of the proletariat in a specific circumstance may reveal a “new method of warfare” but is that method universal to the experiences of a proletariat of an entirely different national, economic, and historical character? No. If we really want to ‘return to the source’ let’s recall Marx informing us we need to organize the proletariat “as a class” not that it simply exists as such with all of this universal capacities.
2. At the same time JMP is calling PPW the “proletarian method of making revolution” he is also arguing that Islamist struggles against Western occupation qualify as PPW “in form but not in political content”. If PPW is the “proletarian method of making revolution, then one would imagine the determinant factors are political in nature. So, how could one separate “form” from “political content”? Doesn’t that simply render the “science” of PPW to be a series of general strategies, tactics, military doctrine and little more? Regarding this we should actually look at what the RCP-PCR says regarding PPW in their programme (the interpretation JMP is actively defending):
“Mao Zedong has systematically applied the principles of protracted people’s war during the Chinese revolution. The military line that he elaborated embodies, in our opinion, a universal character; i.e. it is applicable all over, in all types of countries, although in conformity with concrete conditions that prevail. Among these principles…The role and the necessity of revolutionary violence to transform society and revolutionize social relationships. Participation of the masses as a decisive factor in the war…The building of a red army and the party’s leadership over this army…Revolutionaries establish base areas that put into practice new proletarian life-styles at their inception. This new way of living prepares the masses for the upcoming realities of socialism.”
Among the primary principles of PPW, the RCP-PCR lists those which are most political as the most prominent: “revolutionary violence” to “revolutionize social relationships”; “participation of the masses as a decisive factor”; of course, the “building of a red army and the party’s leadership over this army”; the absolute importance of base areas to establish the “new way of living” and prepare the masses for the “realities of socialism”.
Is JMP arguing that one can observe a real Protracted People’s War as being successful with the exclusion of these principles? Is what is occurring even PPW at that point? It would seem by the explanation of the RCP-PCR that these “examples” would be nothing more than relatively successful guerrilla wars with perhaps some popular support (among some groups). However, JMP wants to appropriate these struggles to demonstrate the success of PPW, even the “anti-communist” sort.
This creates a new dilemma, either PPW is immanently political or it is not. If it is not, then it is simply a collection of asymmetric strategies, tactics and doctrine. If it is immanently political, then we have to reject these ‘successful PPWs’ as being nothing more than relatively successful asymmetric wars. In the event that PPW is simply a “collection” of the military sort, then there is no reason to accept its universality in every conceivable social context. In the event that PPW is immanently political, JMP has very little historical and contemporary examples to demonstrate its efficacy or universality.
3. As may have been garnered earlier, JMP’s understanding borders on the platonic. He wants to cite PPW as being the “untheorized” science behind the successful October Revolution which catapulted the world’s first real experience with socialism into existence. A premise would then be that PPW exists in a transhistorical condition where it can be “stumbled upon” by revolutionaries with an incomplete knowledge of what it actually is. This is really just a metaphysics of revolution. Not that this “metaphysics” itself is undesirable or ‘wrong’ but if that is the premise we should speak honestly to that. JMP would respond by claiming this misunderstands PPW and the universal qualities it has. However, if something is to be immanently political with regard to how it exists theoretically, then one cannot argue this specific ‘science of revolution’ existed before that political delineation was made. One could argue differently if it were assumed that PPW is not immanently political; that it is just a collection of strategies, tactics, and doctrine formulated post hoc into a science which we use for revolution. However, that is not what is to be glossed from the RCP-PCR’s definition.
I started by claiming there was little interest in hashing out the theory and nature of PPW and simply limit myself to primarily questions of methodology, but the two (methodology and that which is presented) cannot be totally unrelated. The fact that JMP consistently defends the interpretation of PPW as presented by the RCP-PCR makes it so we must engage the theory itself, even if only briefly, despite his insistence that this is not his theory. Engaging the universality of PPW makes us ask at least some rudimentary questions regarding the theory itself.
Whether or not PPW actually took place in Russia, as per our understanding of the method employed, is not the question here.
The question is whether or not something can be both immanent to the political condition of a particular circumstance, as carved out theoretically, and not be. How can PPW exist earlier in history than when it is synthesized, granted even without some of the distinct features listed? At what point does something cease to be an “instance” of a general theory as it draws farther from that theory’s specific center?
This question is important because it makes us skeptical to the relevance of PPW as a systematized theory. Why should we care if something which is considered successful is not PPW as defined by the RCP-PCR and previous Maoist groups? If something is “correct” doesn’t that “correctness” supercede our necessity to immediately trace it to one of our token theories? It renders the whole idea behind the systematization of UPPW to be rather obsolete and rigid in its application to revolutionary strategy.
JMP also makes a quick assertion that PPW failed in Peru and Nepal because of opportunism rather than something intrinsic to the strategy itself; essentially he argues these struggle were “ended from within”. This is all very generous to the Maoist telling of these events.
At the fear of devolving the discussion into one of history (to which none of us really desire), let’s understand a few facts regarding these events and then conclude whether or not the failure was merely a political and internal affair.
1. The People’s War of Sendero Lumino wasn’t exactly a grand success. By the late 80s the fighting had begun to stagnate and the Sendero influence outside of their rural base areas was limited. Sendero’s attempt to “choke” the urban centers through the prohibition of trade in the countryside backfired horribly. Peasants who relied on that trade for subsistence came to despise the ill-thought dogma of Sendero and their violent suppression of rural dissent. Public support had dwindled to nearly single digit approval and the military’s policy of creating peasant self-defense committees further weakened the PPW. After the capture of Gonzalo and the Central Committee, the group had been all but defeated. The Peruvian military resumed an intensive campaign against Sendero and scored significant victories over the group. Only then did the splintering which JMP makes reference to occur with some preferring to opt for peace-talks and reconciliation and others opting to fight (although at that point it seemed futile).
2. The Nepalese People’s War may have been more successful than that in Peru but not in the way JMP suggests. It’s true, through careful usage of guerrila war, urban infiltration, and mass engagement (including organizing general strikes with political allies) the Maoists were able to secure the formation of a secular parliamentary system and the toppling of the monarchy. However, the PPW didn’t actually succeed. Despite maintaining great control over the countryside, the Maoists were unable to “choke” the cities to the point of surrender; they were not able to capture the country’s urban centers and secure power in the way they hand contended. Their inability to do so forced the consideration of a much more simple solution: diplomacy. The Maoists opted to join in a parliamentary system and form a coalition government with opposition and allied political parties. It’s difficult then to argue that PPW “put the Maoists in power” although it did certainly put the Maoists alongside power. The trappings of bourgeois parliamentary democracy have proven destructive to the integrity of the revolution there and certainly a decisive military conquest of political power would have been much preferable to the half-victory/half-concession forced by an inadequately waged campaign.
So, was the failure of PPW in Nepal and Peru simply “political” or was it military in nature as well? Even if we concede that the failure was entirely internal, this doesn’t build the case for PPW as a revolutionary science. The presence of reeking opportunism and rightist sentiment (such as in Peru) illustrates a political inefficiency in a strategy which is so explicitly political. Truly, if PPW is to succeed, the Party must control the gun, and that requires the Party to be effective, consistent, and competent. It could be argued that PPW weakens the overall integrity of the Party through the presence of “particular circumstances” that must be militarily overcome and integrated into the overall science and strategy. This generally empowers militaristic and opportunistic factions relative to the kernel of the Party and its ideology e.g. the ultra-violence utilized against peasant collaborators giving birth to the cult of violence at the fringe of the party and in the military apparatus.
It could also be argued that the inefficiencies of PPW in securing military victory simply force“pragmatic action”, breeding a whole nest of opportunism which brings the revolution to an end.
Either way, the supreme universality and efficacy of PPW should be boiled down to its rational core.
His passing comments on insurrectionary thought are both reassuring and problematic. Certainly, the standard economism of the left cannot secure revolutionary consciousness given it only opens a door to privilege that the bourgeoisie can easily concede. However, I think this is a pretty general understanding, at least among many in the far-left. Many insurrectionary anarchists, for example, go as far as to totally ignore the traditional ‘economistic’ struggles within unions and working organizations; therefore, it’s rather arbitrary to claim that the insurrectionary path is more predisposed to such economism while absolving that possibility for PPW.
5. Whose Qualification?
Let’s clarify on this point here. I criticized JMP’s remark that were, at least in broad understanding, directed against those who reject the idea of PPW. I am acutely aware this claim was drawn from Derbent but that was not really relevant to my point. My point was that this approach was dismissive and unrightfully so. We cannot consider any active leftist as being “disqualified” from the revolutionary camp whether or not we agree with their politics. This is because the struggle against white supremacist cisheteropatriachal capitalism is not a tight category, or further policed by protected notions. The struggle is historic, contextual, immanent, and exists with relation to the system itself. How can you disqualify someone in that regard? The camp does not belong to any specific interpretation for one to disqualify!
Again, he claims I made a “semantical shift”. But where was this shift and how did I shift? He claims, “my point was that the rejection of revolutionary strategy was demonstrated by a refusal to produce a theory of overthrowing the state”. I contend this very notion throughout my entire piece and on many levels.
In specific, I argue this interpretation is overlimiting to the project of revolution as well as presented inadequately by the RCP-PCR (with their method of PPW):
1. As stated, most (revolutionary) groups put forward “ideas” of how to overthrow the state. Would common sense not indicate that is part of the process of revolution as a whole? The real question is whether or not these groups are putting forward general theories and universalities. Generally, no, and I provide reasoning for this in the first few pages of my piece, but let’s not pretend that this standard of universality is the only standard worth considering. After all, it is Maoists within the periphery themselves who reject this notion of UPPW; are they “disqualified” because they are unwilling to accept a generalized or universal strategy especially with regard to the core?
2. It misunderstands the event of revolution. Sure, having a nice orderly strategy for the overthrow of the state is cool and all but it’s not really what matters, at our current moment or any other moment. In history, the path of revolution has traversed a number of intersecting strategies, tactics, and “sciences”, granted some being more dominant than others, but all of these are mediated by differing groupings and theorists, alliances and coalitions, towards a specific end (revolution). Have your strategy – it seems as though everyone does to one extent or another- but don’t dilute the question with undue generalizations and an idealistic orientation. Recognize that the organic element of revolution is not organic as a variable to a formula, it’s organic in our inability to conceptualize any such formula worth considering ‘universal’.
3. Limits are cool. Too many limits is bad. Why? For analogy, let’s say we are trying to fix a problem in a car. Through analysis we begin to establish limits of study. The first limit? The car itself. Not anything else, the problem with the car requires us to examine the car itself (at least in this instance) to determine and correct the problem. Then, through investigation (hence, the importance of investigation being particular), we begin to narrow ourselves in our study. The front half of the car. The motor. The top of the motor. By limiting ourselves and our study we find that not only does our investigation become more fruitful, but this is the only way instrumental knowledge can be produced. However, what if our investigation becomes too limited? What if we are absolutely certain that the problem lies only within the electronic components? We spend countless hours scouring our components and researching possible fixes; spending all of this time trying to mediate the problem as certainly being within our electronic components!
Sometimes we need to take a step back and rethink where exactly we are investigating.
Take very close note. I am not arguing against the formulation of revolutionary strategy. I am arguing against totalizing notions of strategy which exclude other processes from taking place within the same spaces. That has been my criticism the entire time. As one will recall, from my original piece, I stated that “our contention is not with PPW itself…we are interrogating this notion of universality which carries with it so much weight relative to PPW itself”.
6. Bad Answers to Worse Questions
JMP contends he is not a theorist of PPW. I agree and I would not suggest otherwise. However, as a supporter of the RCP-PCR, and as an avid proponent of their line, I would ask that JMP only give the tactical explanation one would find over a dinner table. Not “details”. Not “specifics”. Certainly not anything incriminating or destructive to the public project of his chosen organization. Talking about these things in such a light is dangerous. As mentioned before, the Kasama article raises good and adequate enough questions to perhaps prompt the ever so eagerly awaited RCP-PCR response. Yet, until then I do not think it is fair to simply brush aside the tactical question as one which is above any skepticism; after all, this is specifically an informal forum for the exchange of ideas and experiences, not a formal academic space or Party committee. With that being said, I respect the security practice of the RCP-PCR and would not ask any details of such tactic on a space like the internet and will not prod the question any further than has already been prodded by Kasama and others.
In the subsequent paragraphs he explains why PPW is held to the standard it is: a proletarian and scientific response to the transforming bourgeois state and its military apparatuses. None of this is particularly convincing and I think so for reasons already listed.
The claim made in More on the Waging of Imperialist War in Imperialist Countries is simply more of the same. As has been argued before, the piece argues the subjective must overcome the objective via the accumulation and discipline of revolutionary forces. Not discipline as in the rigid sense, but discipline as the conditions and circumstances of revolution would transform the revolutionary subject.
All of this is merely an extension of reasoning and does not improve the “overall story” or the inadequacies therein.
The agreeable elements of a PPW within North America can be easily adopted by any revolutionary formation regardless of official strategy. In fact, the building of a “counter-hegemony” has been a project of the general left for decades and decades, not even limited to radical implementations of theory. To be frank, it’s not like there is a whole host of communists dedicated to the rejection of a “counter-hegemony”. This is simply constructing a false antagonism between revolutionary organizations. We could argue endlessly about whether or not this counter-hegemony is (or was) being done in the “right way”; its authenticity, effectiveness, variation, and theoretical importance vary as widely as its implementation. However, we would be mistaken to contend these generally agreeable notions are exclusive to PPW or the Maoist endeavor.
I won’t spend much time responding to his criticism of my initial tactical points for reasons already listed. However, to avoid the false presumption that he was “correct” in his response, I provide very brief comments:
1. Appropriating the Irish experience for PPW is not a good argument. The Troubles were not only unsuccessful, but marked by great uncertainty and strife between active groups. The greatest asset to the Irish resistance was the political quagmire that had been created, not the military supremacy of their base areas. We should learn from the Irish experience, not try to explode their experience to include our own.
2. First, he makes no response to my point with the Vietnamese Revolution and Chinese involvement; a rather important example more immediate to our circumstances than the Chinese Revolution itself. Second, he does not refute my initial point only transplants the premises to ones which are not outside my reasoning. The fact that the Kuomintang did receive Soviet weaponry and support is integral to the war experience in that it gave material precondition to an effective struggle. Refer his mention of the Nepalese and Peruvian examples to my earlier points. Third, he avoids all my other points by claiming this repression solved by the very “dispersed” nature of PPW. Well, in his example the repression is not defeated by some superior science but by the sheer presumption of an even politic. If we are going to assume the best with respect to development, why not do the same for insurrectionary theory? Any such North American PPW would be fortunate to fall under the repression of the intensity that RAF did. Are we waging a people’s war to overthrow an entire system of rule or not? Take that presumption away and the ballooning certainty of PPW falls to a familiar level.
3. Counter-hegemony is awesome, I agree. Once again, drawing comparison to India is poor argumentation. The story goes that because historically marginalized people have overcome grand narratives regarding their own existence within India, the PPW of North America can defeat the public onslaught waged by even more cohesive apparatuses. Remember, the counter-hegemony of the Naxalite has not been entirely effective either, clearly. Plenty of anti-Naxalite groups exist outside the formal state apparatus and the Indian state itself is far from defeated.
I do not suggest electoral action without the theory/practice to support it. Data means “things given” and when circumstances present themselves so then things are given, analysis is made, and judgments can be formed. I have no problem with establishing principles, methods, or even strategies which are inclusive; however, I do not suggest the universality of my own rhetoric and therefore would not hold the Canadian experience to that standard as he would hold PPW to my own.
I won’t dig into the discussion of “can any group” achieve that “mass support” I mentioned in the first article. This subject itself could consume several essays. What I will say is that mass support, whether we like it or not, guides our political action, organizing, and how we gauge our general success. Hide that fact behind any lingo and it still remains paramount. I simply advocate acknowledging that fact rather than pretending it is more of a secondary or “mediated” issue, able to be surmounted by the “most correct line”. His final point is again, overly rhetorical. Perhaps I am a refoundationalist, perhaps I am a movementist, perhaps I am a crypto-trotskyist (as has been alleged, more than once). Or perhaps I simply present a criticism of UPPW, both in methodology and concrete application, which provokes more reflection than one might normally entertain.
This draws us to the final point.
7. All Alternatives
The question of Global People’s War is an interesting one and it is one which is currently (and has been) debated within and outside of RAIM. Does this fit into the “competing buffet of strategies”? Perhaps, however, not out of my own desire if that is the case. It’s for this reason that some of us within RAIM have set out to specify our position on revolutionary strategy within North America; a project which will hopefully be completed with full disclosure at a later date.
In that sense, I do feel as though I am being honest. I neither reject line struggle, nor the question of revolutionary strategy. I reject what I feel as being overlimiting and counterproductive to the notion itself.
For no matter what “strategy” we come around to – whatever science we put forward – we do so in spirit of the radical inclusiveness (and optimism) mentioned in my initial piece.
JMP attempts to access a similar point by claiming that he is in favor of many different active Marxisms within the same social formation. This is very reassuring as his friendliness is arguably not the disposition of every Maoist within his camp or in North America as a whole. But could one seriously argue that the PPW envisioned by the RCP-PCR would entertain allies within other insurrectionary groups and electoral movements? I would find such a coalition to be unlikely and therefore rendering his interpretation of “existing Marxisms” to be a method of correcting practice rather than cooperating practice.
Ultimately the claim that no substantive alternative is offered by myself and others is problematic for two reasons. First, I do offer an alternative path to revolution. Whether or not he considers that path to be legitimate is irrelevant to the fact that it is indeed offered. In addition, the methodology which I offer in respect to the question of revolution is not only alternate to his own but constructive in its own right. Second, the whole point of my criticism was to argue against this “necessity” of a generalized theory of revolution. If I were to suggest my own universal strategy of revolution, then I would be rather hypocritical, no?
Revisiting the original thesis of my initial piece, how we entertain this question of making revolution is going to define how we approach the situation; whether we find ourselves in a rupture or a continuity; whether we propose or dispose; whether we expand or limit. This is desperately important to the entire project of communism.
He claims that PPW tells us “how” to raise mass support but that does not really build his case. Any revolutionary is going to claim her strategy provides insight into that matter, and often that insight is true; how true and how unique is still to be determined. What is certain is that how you approach the question is going to narrow your possible answers.
This was precisely the point of the Deleuze quote I entertained in my initial piece. The question of making revolution itself is not problematic. It becomes problematic when it is entertained within the wrong light. For if the wrong question is asked, then only wrong investigation and wrong answers can follow. It’s for this reason that I argue the Universality of Protracted People’s War fails to properly or adequately address revolutionary strategy within the First World.
By asking “how can we make PPW in North America”, you aren’t addressing revolution. You’re addressing PPW. This methodology is not only questionable, it’s arguably detrimental to the potential of revolutionary activity which genuinely engages our social conditions. Universality of Protracted People’s War does not answer our investigation into revolution, it merely abolishes it.