Liberal Anarcho-Maoism?

This has been a somewhat experimental category I’ve been playing around with for a year or so since being in Texas and which I think captures well a dominant trend among the Left here.  It  was primarily through campus organizing that I first encountered this trend (or at least was in the position to begin to see them in this way) though it is not limited to the campus and has some relation to broader community activism.  I should be clear from the very beginning: this term does not define  a coherent practice as it contains many contradictions.

The liberal part is most important when it comes to its practical politics.  It’s main orientation is to politicians, university bureaucrats, heads of organizations, and at times police.  It is focused on having a good relationship with these class elements since they are seen to hold power and can and should be influenced in their favor.  It is the most bankrupt expression of political activity today as it is narrowed to the channels official society grants it and it refuses to break ranks.  It does not value independent organization among the working class, nor does it have a sense of friends and enemies (except those to the left of them who disrupt these efforts).  These are basic starting points for any point of struggle.  Without meeting both requirements the tasks of struggle are thwarted before beginning.  You can have an independent working class organization and still tail the officials.  You can have a sense of friends and enemies among classes but still be locked into forms of organization that prevent those tensions from being expressed and self-professed revolutionaries are not automatically exempt from these pitfalls.

It’s Maoist component has to do with its understanding of race.  Here my definition will appear its most abstract, specifically because it does not manifest today as a conscious Maoism.  But although form is rarely if ever in harmony with its content, it owes its lineage precisely to this historical experience.  The LAMs approach to race practically has meant submerging class differences into the categories of identity and body politics.  A Latino dean is seen first as Latino and his/her/hir role in leading and supporting budget cuts, for example, is second to their professed or even visible identity.  The failure lies in being unable to distinguish the class rifts in communities of color and specifically how those rifts have been crucial to the consolidation of new forms of white supremacy.

The lineage referred to above can be traced back to the Chinese Revolution of 1949, the Bandung Conference of 1955 (which saw national liberation from below turn into the establishment of new regimes of white supremacy within the body of a new people of color political elite), and the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s (an inner-party battle that was waged by Mao to strengthen his control over the Chinese State–a point which we will return to when discussing the anarchist influence of LAMs) which broke from the orthodoxy of the centrality of the (white male) industrial proletariat and put the overwhelming majority of the earth’s people (people of color and peasants) front and center.   This gave Marxism-Leninism a new legitimacy to oppressed people of color across the globe in the 1950s and 1960s, including the US.   The most notable and known manifestation of Maoism in the US was the Black Panther Party, though Maoism was no doubt the most influential current among Marxists in the New Left period.

Amongst the American largely white New Left, a small grouping within broad tendency called Revolutionary Youth Movement (largely an opposition to the Progressive Labor Party-led Worker Student Alliance within SDS) went on to develop an ambitious theory that attempted to explain the historical reasons for the white working class’s allegiance to the State and this was due to the material advantages they were given in jobs, housing, wages, and political rights.  The dynamism of this theory, however, would later become its weakness as the continued downturn of class struggle in the US saw the subsumption of “privilege” theory into academia which stripped it of its historical and dialectical content.  The end product was an ahistoric and declassed formula which amounted nothing more than to a flowchart of oppressions–no sense of subjectivity, no sense of struggle.

What was the specific theory that undergirded this new approach?  Mao’s “New Democracy” program which, at the onset of imperialist forays by Japan into Chinese territory meant for Mao that the working class and peasantry must abandon its independent struggle and unite with the well-t0-do peasantry and national bourgeoisie in order to throw off the common enemy.  By independent struggle it is meant its own specific mediums of struggle and organization and demands against its immediate oppressor and bourgeois.  This New Democracy was merely a reinvention of the Comintern’s 4th Period or “Popular Front” program of the late 1930s and throughout the second World War (and, hell, even today as it never recovered from this historic failure).  This is the form which dominates outside academia and among tendencies of the revolutionary Left today.  The practical race politics became a deference to official people of color leaders and those within state bureaucracies since the “main enemy” was “white supremacy.”

Here we can see the relationship between a, at best, softness on the “Rainbow Coalition” political elite in the US and, at worst, a tailing of them that forgoes the revolutionary responsibility of developing independent politics, perspectives, and “mass” participatory forms of organization.  People of color are oppressed, including those in the state bureaucracy, and there is no differentiation in approach to the various class layers amongst Black, Brown, Native, Arab, and Asian communities.

Finally we come to the anarchist component of this conjuncture.  In the 1990s there was the effort to build the Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation.  Marxism-Leninism had either splintered itself into oblivion and the attempt to build THE vanguard party had relegated them to the fringes or they had liquidated every practical difference between themselves and the liberals and went on joining various union and university bureaucracies and campaigns to elect people of color candidates.  Anarchism was wide open to attack Marxism but it could not overcome its own isolating theoretical weaknesses essential to anarchist theory taken by itself.  Unfortunately, those who were aware of this began to turn toward Maoism instead of toward Marx or a libertarian communism.  While they were attracted to the racial implications of Mao’s New Democracy in practice, they also fell into the seductiveness of Mao’s seeming anti-authoritarianism that is bound up with the Cultural Revolution.

Mao’s isolation from the Chinese Communist Party in the late 1950s and early 1960s (and for an excellent elaboration of this, I highly recommend the libertarian communist Cajo Brendel’s “Theses on the Chinese Revolution”) spelled doom for its old dogmatic/ideological wing loyal to Marxism-Leninism and opposition to “revisionism.”  A new technocratic/managerial layer of the Party began to predominate and it was governed by more pragmatic tasks: breaking the backs of the revolting workers in the factories and streamlining the production process.  Mao was more interested in spreading the dogma of Marxism-Leninism as the method for breaking the “anarchist” and “criminal” working classes who didn’t understand their historic “disciplinary” tasks.  He advanced the slogan “bombard the headquarters” and couched his attacks against the managerial class in terms of old conservative rulers who monopolized knowledge.  He argued for Red Guards to form to overthrow this class but at bottom he had his own opportunistic reasons for doing this.

Anarcho-Maoism will likely remain the obscurity it is and Maoism’s racial politics will be key in decisively defeating its influence.  Most folks with anarchist sensibilities can see through the smoke screen of Mao’s “anti-authoritarianism” when it come to the factional fights after the revolution.

Communists must build a fighting libertarian Black Power/Chicanismo/Feminista/TransLib current if it is defeat this class collaborationist, reactionary muddle and it won’t be by rejecting identity politics by themselves, anarchism by itself, or Maoism by itself.  It will have to come through positive theoretical engagement with Marx, class struggle, and the historical of class conflict in national liberation movements and subaltern struggles in the US.


  1. Great essay – really good to see the history of privilege politics written down. I am wondering where DuBois fits in. Simply built upon by the Revolutionary Youth Movement? Was DuBois a Maoist?

  2. What up Sarahtopz?

    When RYM split from the WSA-dominated SDS, they eventually themselves split between RYM I (which was the Weather people) and RYM II. RYM II comprised the October League/CPML, Bay Area Revolutionary Union/RCP, other groups which would merge much later–like FRSO, and a much smaller group which became the Sojourner Truth Organization. The STO took Du Bois’ Black Reconstruction in America very seriously, specifically his analysis of race and class and how they interacted and played out in the antebellum and post-Civil War South. They republished chapters of that book in pamphlets and passed them out.

    Du Bois was a Communist when he wrote Black Reconstruction in the 1930s but his book was seen as revisionist by the Party, and certainly by white official society. I think the prevailing perspective on the Civil War within the CP at the time was by Charles and Mary Beard (I think they were socialists) who had a really crude understanding of the War and no sense of subjectivity on part of the revolting slaves. They had a very Kautskyist approach, that fertishised machine production that overwhelmed backwards agricultural production that was seen as feudal. Du Bois completely flipped the script and said slavery was capitalist, slaves were proletarians, and the Civil War was a general strike of black labor. He saw the ability for the South to maintain its power as based in its ability to win white workers to white supremacy which would prevent interracial worker solidarity. The STO adapted this historical analysis for the tasks of workers in the 1970s, that capitalism could only be overthrown through directly attacking the social and class basis of white supremacy. All the New Communist Movement was relatively united around the Black movement as the vanguard of the struggle in the US (which was totally different from the Old Communists), but STO made it part of their programmatic approach to win white workers to a class stand by demonstrating that the Black movement was in the interest of white workers.

    Of course, as I wrote above, this orientation to white workers and a lack of clarity about race and class led to the Popular Frontism and academia of the Race Traitor publication and more recent currents that grew out of it.

    From what I know of Du Bois, he was a Stalinist and passed away before “Maoism” became a real thing which would be in the early 1960s. Maoism couldn’t be born until China and Russia split (and later different Communist Parties). Milt Rosen was a key Communist Party member who left to form the first Maoist organization in the US, the Progressive Labor Movement and that was in 1960, and old WEB was in his 90s by then exiled in Africa. He did have a friendly relationship with Mao, however, but this was before the Cultural Revolution and the advent of the New Communist Movement.

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