I would like to preface this by stating that I do not accept everything there is about Maoism, just as I do not accept everything there is about any ideology or theory, but in many ways I see aspects of Mao Tse Tung’s philosophy as being not only compatible with anarchism, but also offering new insights that are largely absent from contemporary anti-authoritarian discourse. Non-anarchist and even anti-anarchist works can be of tremendous value for anarchists; if we had to rely on the analyses of anarchists alone, anarchist theory would be in an unfortunate situation. We should be open-minded and critical about this instead of throwing out the baby with the bath-water, and steer clear of immediate judgements and entrenched ideas. Some of the most important developments in anarchist theory and practice have occurred entirely outside of the anarchist movement, which remains largely unaware of them. I will just list here some of the things that I find most attractive in Maoism:
1) It is populist of sorts and strives to connect with people, the broad masses, the peasants, etc. in a real, meaningful way. This is the broad-based, populist, grassroots, communitarian, decentralized nature of Maoism, and the reason that it has become so attractive in third-world countries like Nepal, India, and Peru, as opposed to other forms of Marxism-Leninism, which are based mainly among industrial, male working class.
2) Mao payed little importance to the supposed necessity of industrial and technological development as being a prerequisite for revolution, an idea inherited from orthodox Marxist economic determinism. He conceived of revolution as not being determined by history, technology or anything else, but as being based on a sheer force of will on the part of people who desire it and are determined to make it happen. 3) Mao’s concept of “from the people, to the people.” He argued that the revolutionary vanguard (used in a non-authoritarian sense, meaning “an advanced minority”) should go directly to the people, to the villages, towns, and communities – live and study first-hand the life of the people, talk with everyday people, and find out their needs, desires, goals, aspirations, talents, capabilities, ideologies, and mindsets, and then formulate the revolutionary theory in a way that people can understand and that deeply resonates with them and their everyday life. Here is how Mao describes “from the masses, to the masses”:
“This means: take the ideas of the masses (scattered and unsystematic ideas) and concentrate them (through study turn them into concentrated and systematic ideas), then go to the masses and propagate and explain these ideas until the masses embrace them as their own, hold fast to them and translate them into action, and test the correctness of these ideas in such action. Then once again concentrate ideas from the masses and once again go to the masses so that the ideas are persevered in and carried through. And so on, over and over again in an endless spiral, with the ideas becoming more correct, more vital and richer each time.” [“Some Questions Concerning Methods of Leadership” (June 1, 1943), Selected Works, Vol. III, p. 119.]
Anarchists often use obtuse buzz-words and jargon that ordinary people cannot understand. Needless to say, this “from the people, to the people” idea is something that is lacking within anarchism, and the Maoist model could be of value for anarchist theory and practice.
4) Maoist epistemology, his ideas on “criticism/self-criticism” in particular. There are many parallels between this and critical rationalist Karl Popper’s “conjectures and refutations”. This means critiquing, rooting out and examining all irrationality, mysticism, authority, and domination, and a constant process of rational criticism and reflection. Maoist epistemology also sees coercion as being harmful to the growth of knowledge, and sees this as best being done through non-coercive means, such as persuasion and criticism. Mao writes: “The only way to settle questions of an ideological nature or controversial issues among the people is by the method of discussion, of criticism, of persuasion and education, and not by the method of coercion or repression.”
5) “Revolution within the revolution”. Maoism sees revolution as being a continual on-going process, rather than one big cataclysmic event, as a lot of anarchists conceive it. This is why the Chinese Cultural Revolution lasted 10 years! (I’ve read that collectivization in the Chinese Revolution of 1966-1976 was voluntary. I think there may be a lot of truth to this, since the majority of Chinese were genuinely attracted to Maoism and had a real desire and enthusiasm to put it into practice). The victory of The Revolution or Civil War is not the end of the revolution, but only the beginning – and developments need to be continually made in all areas of life, in science, philosophy, economics, agriculture, culture, and interpersonal relations, always pushing the envelope, and all of these developments exist to increase human happiness and provide for everyone’s needs, wants, and desires. This dynamic optimist approach “acts as a potent psycho-epistemological vaccine, not only against pessimism and defeatism, but against dogmatization and stagnation, and so encourages [.] openness to new information and approaches”. (“Pancritical Rationalism: An Extropic Metacontext for Memetic Progress”, Max More).
6) Maoism puts a lot of emphasis on culture and interpersonal relations. Instead of relegating issues of race, gender, and age relations to secondary positions, as an irrelevant sidetrack to the more serious class issues, as was done in the Soviet Union and among much of the left, Mao saw these as being of paramount importance. Mao thought of culture as being essential, and his policy in terms of culture was: “let a hundred flowers bloom”, as opposed to the traditional Marxist-Leninist line of bland “socialist realism”. Mao explicitly denounced the straight-jacketing of art and culture, and supported free creativity and the solving of problems though “free discussion” and “practical work.” Here is an example of Mao’s views on culture, art, and aesthetics:
“Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting the progress of the arts and the sciences and a flourishing socialist culture in our land. Different forms and styles in art should develop freely and different schools in science should contend freely. We think that it is harmful to the growth of art and science if administrative measures are used to impose one particular style of art or school of thought and to ban another. Questions of right and wrong in the arts and sciences should be settled through free discussion in artistic and scientific circles and through practical work in these fields. They should not be settled in summary fashion.” [On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People (February 27, 1957), 1st pocket ed., pp. 49-50.]
7) Maoism is for the most part anti-reforms, anti-voting, and advocates direct action rather than symbolic appeals to the State. It also focuses on anti-prison, anti-police, and armed struggle against the State, rather than the unions and campaigns of Trotskyism. I’d like to mention that here that Mao was a mass-murdering statist fuck, who murdered more people than anyone else in history, including Hitler and Stalin. He used intimidation, prisons, police, concentration camps, and bogus trials to terrorize and murder countless people. I am in no way a “Maoist” in the traditional sense, like the RCP or MIM are. I just see many aspects of Maoist philosophy worth salvaging. Nothing is “entirely good” or “entirely bad”, everything has something to offer us, so I take the good parts of Maoism and discard the rest. Also, there is a big difference between Mao’s regime and the popular masses that fervently worked to create a free society.
What the Chinese people attempted to do in the Revolution was to create a whole new way of life, a whole new culture, a whole new liberatory society. This was based on Mao’s worldview, which had such a great appeal for the Chinese people, because it resonated so deeply with them. The Nepalese people are attempting to do this right now, and they presently control large parts of rural Nepal. If the Maoists in Nepal do indeed seize power, which is unlikely given that the Chinese, Indian, Nepalese, and U.S. governments are at their throat, they would most certainly install an authoritarian state not dissimilar to that of Mao, Pol Pot or Ho Chi Minh. This is because power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and without a consistent and explicit anti-State perspective, this indeed is inevitable. It makes no difference who seizes power, be they socialists, monarchists, republicans, fascists, or anarchists. (A case in point, the “anarcho”-syndicalist labor federation in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39, the CNT-FAI, set up their own prisons, concentration camps, and police forces, and indeed joined the Loyalist government). But regardless of the authoritarian legacy which we ordinarily associate with Maoism and the Chinese Revolution, the experiences of China and Nepal were and still are seen by the people as new, adventurous, bold, courageous and daring, and as the dawn of a new way of life, of a new world-view and way of looking at the world, a truly liberatory social experiment from the bottom-up.