On Proletarian Theory

by Jan Makandal

April 8, 2013

In this period, we are witnessing an ossification and stagnation of proletarian revolutionary theory. The effects of this, in reality and objectively, are dogmatism, opportunism and populism. One of the consequences is that Mao’s contributions are cast in stone, making us incapable of going from a dialectical relation of general to specific and specific to general, in order to elevate the theory. That dialectical relation is the underpinning element for theory’s constant mode of rectification and consolidation.

Our current did study the experience of the revolutionary movement in China, and recognizes the contributions of Mao to proletarian revolutionary theory (as well as their limitations). Why are we not Maoist? Here are some of the reasons:

1) Mao’s contributions are at the level of a definition of a theory (making it a philosophy). Mao contributed to defining classes and class relations, plus defined the possibility of socialism in a social formation in which feudalism still strongly existed but was deteriorating. This definition was New Democracy, a demarcation from the mechanical and revisionist conception of the two stages theory. Mao defined a theory, mostly at the level of ideology, based on the foundation of Marxism and Leninism. At the same time, it is important to recognize Mao’s opportunism and populism, which allowed the radical petit bourgeoisie to deform proletarian theory, based on its class interests (under the label “Maoism”). Mao’s philosophical contributions did not elevate the theory to a new stage.

2) Why has proletarian theory been identified as Marxist and Leninist, and why is there currently the need to elevate it beyond these labels?

Marxism is the historical triumph of a tendency of a theory in the interest of the proletariat over other tendencies, which was accomplished by giving an interpretation of capital and capitalism based on the interest of the class fundamentally antagonistic to capital. Leninism is the triumph of a political line over economism and reformism during the period of imperialism. In the period of imperialism, Leninism is Marxism.

The labels Marxist and Leninist have historically accomplished an objective in the consolidation of a theory, a definition of that theory that many others contributed to (including Mao), and simultaneously of a political line against the most antagonistic enemy of the proletariat: the capitalist class and capitalism in its most advanced stage of imperialism.

Now historically, and because of the recuperation of that theory by the radical petit bourgeoisie, the international proletariat faces the need to reclaim that theory, which was constructed in struggle against the bourgeoisie. During this period of imperialism, and due to the ultimate objective of the proletariat for the abolition of private property, and also because Marxism and Leninism is still unfinished and in a constant mode of rectification and consolidation, it is important that we elevate the theory (of guiding the proletariat in its struggle against capital) to become the collective property of the INTERNATIONAL WORKING CLASS.

The petit bourgeoisie has a notion of private property based on their own material conditions. In addition to the traditional category of petit bourgeoisie (small business owners, high level professionals), there is a large section of the petit bourgeoisie (mainly consisting of service employees, some professionals, and other working people involved in the circulation of capital rather than the production of surplus value) that, in its relation to production, owns nothing. As a result, they have come to view their own individuality as their private property. They have nothing to sell on the marketplace except their individuality: their ideas, expertise, talents, social influence, personalities, etc.

This section of the petit bourgeoisie is becoming radicalized during the current crisis of capitalism, in response to losing stability. (Occupy was basically an expression of outrage in reaction to this decline in position). Because of the ideological effects of their relationship to production, the radical petit bourgeoisie, though well-intentioned, are attempting to claim Marxism-Leninism as their own private property. In a period of social upheaval, this becomes an area of their expertise, a means of acquiring social influence (fundamentally: personal market power in the realm of politics).

Another reason the petit bourgeoisie is gravitating toward Marxism-Leninism is because as a non-autonomous class, they are incapable of offering an autonomous alternative. They must ally with either of the two fundamental classes. Normally they side with the bourgeoisie, but as they are squeezed harder by capitalism, they are pushed toward attempting to ally with capitalism’s enemy, the proletariat.

In the process, they appropriate Marxism-Leninism as their own, but deform it to serve their own class interests. The result is a fake brand of “communism” divorced from its class origin and base, the working class. Exacerbating this in the US is the extremely low level of proletarian struggle that, if stronger, could act as a counterweight – though even in social formations where proletarian struggle is more advanced, the petit bourgeoisie still does the same thing. Unless there is a clear line insisting on and enforcing the autonomy of the working class, the petit bourgeoisie will tend to take over, seize leadership of, and deform any proletarian struggle they join into.

In recent decades, the petit bourgeoisie has adopted the idealist outlook of postmodernism, which not only leads to the rejection of class struggle in favor of identity politics, but also completely divorces theory from reality. When every perception and interpretation (point of view, opinion) is equally valid, and nothing can be judged, then we trade reality for the imaginary worlds in our own minds. This results in absurdities such as anarchists objectively (obviously) leading organizations at the same time as they are denouncing the concept of organization. Or doomsayers asserting that the Apocalypse is nigh (whether by way of God, ecocide, or nuclear war) while simultaneously purchasing a 30-year mortgage. This splitting of theory from reality serves the bourgeoisie, with our brains fully cooked and on a silver plate. (“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” – Karl Rove. “We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false.” – William Casey).

These tendencies and urges of the petit bourgeoisie are all to the great detriment of the fusion of proletarian theory with working class struggle. It further pushes that theory into lifeless immobility, into scripture and formula. It not only deadens it into dogma, but also privatizes all the previous contributions of proletarian theory by proletarian revolutionaries, by creating label-ism and enclosing it in sectarian chapels, each reproducing its own cult of personality. Sectarianism/label-ism is the effect of the petit bourgeoisie holding onto their notion of private property: their individuality, resulting in individualism. The consequences are an ossification and stagnation of proletarian theory.

No theory, ideas, or definition of theory (philosophy) can exist outside class struggle. They are, in fact, determined and produced by class struggle. It is the case, that even if those ideas and theories are initiated by individuals, they ultimately and objectively elevate to a class line. They articulate a class interest, for the sole purpose of the reproduction of that class.

The radical petit bourgeoisie is historically impotent to offer an alternative to capitalism. So even with all their cults of personality, all their sects, in the final analysis their ultimate, underlying objective is for the reproduction of capitalism (even if in that reproduction they achieve an enlargement of bourgeois democratic rights, it is defined and determined by the interests of the petit bourgeoisie as a whole).

This is not to say that class abandonment is impossible. Those petit bourgeois elements who want to advance the cause of the proletariat and act in the interest of the proletariat will need to (as Mao asserted) disrobe themselves of their petit bourgeois origins, as a principal aspect of a transformative process to become a proletarian revolutionary. For the ones who are incapable of such process (most of them), they will need to contribute as anti-imperialist progressives, in order for history to advance in the interest of the masses, in particular the proletariat. At the same time they must recognize their objective limitations, which are considerable if they operate without the leadership of the proletariat.

The insistence on that process of transformation, with the principal aspect being deserting one’s class of origin and renouncing the correspondent class interests, is fundamentally different from workerism (the notion that only actual workers can be proletarian revolutionaries). Workerism is one of many revisionist attempts to rob the leadership of the working class from the working class. Most of the proletarian revolutionaries mentioned above were not workers. They may have never worked in a factory, which is an objective limitation, but doing so is not an absolute requirement to becoming a proletarian revolutionary.

3) Even if we need to elevate our theory in this period of imperialism, making it the collective property of the INTERNATIONAL PROLETARIAT, that doesn’t mean we are in a new stage, as Maoists claim. Will Gonzalo also represent a new stage? Or Bob Avakian? No, we are still in the same stage we have been in during the past 100 years or more. This is a stage with different political moments, political conjunctures. The current moment is characterized by the dominance of imperialist aggression and domination, as well as by the stagnation and ossification of our theory.

The stage can’t be decided by a few elitist intellectuals. The masses make history! The stage will be decided in the struggle of the masses against capital. Maoism is a fictional stage, a real abstract existing only in the minds of some intellectuals. Maoism, as well as Trotskyism or any other labels, are anti-materialist concepts (even if the intent behind them is noble), since they are not correspondent to any objective reality. The elevation of our theory to the collective property of the proletariat is correspondent to the objective final goal of the proletariat.

What does this mean in reality?

A)   It means that Marxism-Leninism has reached period of maturity as the foundation of proletarian theory. It simultaneously allows us to construct (based on the dialectical relation of a never ending process of general to specific and specific to general for the elevation of our theory) a PROLETARIAN ALTERNATIVE.

B)   Proletarian theory/proletarian alternatives are in a constant mode of rectification and consolidation, based on three principles: 1) Centralization of experiences, 2) Centralization of actual practices, 3) Centralization of knowledge. This enables our class and its most advanced detachment (the proletarian revolutionaries) to objectively learn from each other in the dialectical relation of theory and practice, for the validation of our theory.

C)   All contributions, even contributions made by petit bourgeois intellectuals and revolutionaries, are the collective property of our class, the working class: to learn from, to demarcate from, and to unite with.

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