Lin Biaoism and the Third World: How Idealism Distorts Class

DSC08705

by Espresso Stalinist

An odd phenomenon is haunting the halls of Maoism – a chauvinist set of ideas loosely forged from the writings of Chinese military officer and politician Lin Biao. These ideas, to the extent to which they form coherent ideology at all, can roughly be termed “Lin Biaoism.” To be perfectly clear, I am under no impression that “Lin Biaoism” is an entirely new ideology. Lin Biao’s works are not significant enough to constitute a new stage of revolutionary science. What does exist is a wing of Maoism, usually associated with the “third-worldist” variety, that upholds the works of Lin Biao in theory and practice. The ideology, such as it is, is not worth refuting. However, its underlying assumptions about proletarian internationalism, imperialism, revolutionary theory and practice are.

I fully expect upon publication these thoughts will have piles of ashes heaped upon them as “first worldism,” as “a total misrepresentation” of the ideas I criticize, and overall rejection of this piece as a reactionary and revisionist writing dedicated to attacking Lin Biao’s theories. But this is par for the course with “third-worldists” of all kinds, who much like anarchists dismiss all criticisms by claiming the author knows not what they criticize. In this essay, I am not concerned with what I allegedly do not know – I am only concerned with what we do know. In this case, what we know about the problems in Lin Biao’s theories.

Lin Biao (1907-1971) was a Chinese revisionist military officer and politician. Born in December 5th, 1907, he graduated from the famous Whampoa Military Academy, then under the command of Chiang Kai-shek. After graduation he joined the armed forces of the Kuomintang (KMT) or Nationalists. During the Northern Expedition he joined the Communist Party. Following the 1927 Shanghai massacre of thousands of workers, trade unionists and Communist Party members, which began the Chinese Civil War, Lin defected to the Red Army. He participated in the Long March and became known as one of the CPC’s most brilliant military commanders and an authority on guerrilla warfare. During the Japanese invasion of China, Lin commanded troops in the Battle of Pingxingguan, one of the few battlefield successes for the Chinese during the first period of the Second Sino-Japanese War. He was forced to retire from active service in 1937 after a serious battlefield injury complicated by tuberculosis and left for Moscow, where from 1937 to 1942 he acted as the representative of the CPC to the Executive Committee of the Communist International, or Comintern.

After the end of World War II and the Soviet liberation of Manchuria from the Japanese, fighting resumed between the Communists and Nationalists. Lin led victorious campaigns of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Manchuria and throughout Northern China against the KMT forces, including the famous Pingjin Campaign, which led to the liberation of Beijing in 1949. His forces then resumed attacks on the KMT in the southeast, which led to securing the major cities of Wuhan and Guangzhou. He was named one of the “Ten Marshals” after the Communist victory and the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Lin mostly abstained from participating politics in the 1950s. In 1962 Lin succeeded Peng Dehuai as commander of the PLA, starting a rectification program among officers and soldiers stressing political education, eventually culminating in the abolition of ranks in the PLA. Lin would rise to political prominence again during the Cultural Revolution.

Lin Biao was the most prominent supporter of the cult of personality around Mao, working to develop it within the PLA in particular. In 1964 it was he who compiled some of Mao’s writings into a handbook, Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung, also known as the Little Red Book, and ensured it was mass-produced and distributed, first within the PLA, and then throughout the entire People’s Republic.

In September 1965, Lin Biao’s most famous work, “Long Live the Victory of People’s War!” was published, which contains the vast majority of his political theories. It heavily promoted Mao Tse-tung’s theory of people’s war:

“Comrade Mao Tse-tung’s theory of people’s war has been proved by the long practice of the Chinese revolution to be in accord with the objective laws of such wars and to be invincible. It has not only been valid for China, it is a great contribution to the revolutionary struggles of the oppressed nations and peoples throughout the world. [….] Comrade Mao Tse-tung’s theory of people’s war is not only a product of the Chinese revolution, but has also the characteristics of our epoch.”

And even proclaimed it to be universal:

“It must be emphasized that Comrade Mao Tse-tung’s theory of the establishment of rural revolutionary base areas and the encirclement of the cities from the countryside is of outstanding and universal practical importance for the present revolutionary struggles of all the oppressed nations and peoples, and particularly for the revolutionary struggles of the oppressed nations and peoples in Asia, Africa and Latin America against imperialism and its lackeys.”

It heavily supported the Maoist theory of the revolutionary movement spreading from the countryside to the cities:

“The countryside, and the countryside alone, can provide the broad areas in which the revolutionaries can manoeuvre freely. The countryside, and the countryside alone, can provide the revolutionary bases from which the revolutionaries can go forward to final victory.”

Lin Biao believed this even to the point of arguing against the modernization of the PLA in favor of people’s war. More significantly, in perhaps the most influential part of his pamphlet to modern-day “Lin Biaoists,” Lin Biao applies the Maoist concept of people’s war to the international situation:

“Taking the entire globe, if North America and Western Europe can be called ‘the cities of the world’, then Asia, Africa and Latin America constitute ‘the rural areas of the world’. Since World War II, the proletarian revolutionary movement has for various reasons been temporarily held back in the North American and West European capitalist countries, while the people’s revolutionary movement in Asia, Africa and Latin America has been growing vigorously. In a sense, the contemporary world revolution also presents a picture of the encirclement of cities by the rural areas. In the final analysis, the whole cause of world revolution hinges on the revolutionary struggles of the Asian, African and Latin American peoples who make up the overwhelming majority of the world’s population.”

At the 11th Plenum of the 8th CC in August 1966, a meeting presided over by Mao and guarded by Lin’s troops, the famous big-character poster reading, “Bombard the Headquarters!” was unveiled, written by Mao himself. This was a declaration of war against the “right” elements Liu Shaoqi, Deng Xiaoping and other leaders of the party apparatus, and the practical launching of what would come to be called the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.” During the Cultural Revolution, after initial control by the Red Guards proved too tenuous the PLA under Lin Biao’s command effectively took over the role of controlling the country previously held by the Communist Party. The GPCR had virtually destroyed the Communist Party and liquidated its organizations, but had greatly strengthened the political role of the army, which largely controlled the provincial Revolutionary Committees and many Ministries and economic enterprises.

The Ninth Congress of the Communist Party of China was held in 1969, during which former President Liu Shaoqi was removed from all posts and expelled from the party. During this Congress Lin built up the cult of Mao more than ever, declaring Mao’s though to be a “higher and completely new stage” of Marxism. He summed up the ideology of Maoism, then called “Mao Tse-tung Thought,” thusly:

“The Communist Party of China owes all its achievements to the wise leadership of Chairman Mao and these achievements constitute victories for Mao Tsetung Thought. For half a century now, in leading the great struggle of the people of all the nationalities of China for accomplishing the new-democratic revolution, in leading China’s great struggle for socialist revolution and socialist construction and in the great struggle of the contemporary international communist movement against imperialism, modern revisionism and the reactionaries of various countries, Chairman Mao has integrated the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism with the concrete practice of revolution, has inherited, defended and developed Marxism-Leninism in the political, military, economic, cultural, philosophical and other spheres, and has brought Marxism-Leninism to a higher and completely new stage. Mao Tsetung Thought is Marxism-Leninism of the era in which imperialism is heading for total collapse and socialism is advancing to world-wide victory. The entire history of our Party has borne out this truth: Departing from the leadership of Chairman Mao and Mao Tsetung Thought, our Party will suffer setbacks and defeats; following Chairman Mao closely and acting on Mao Tsetung Thought, our Party will advance and triumph. We must forever remember this lesson. Whoever opposes Chairman Mao, whoever opposes Mao Tsetung Thought, at any time or under any circumstances, will be condemned and punished by the whole Party and the whole country.”

During his report to the Ninth Congress, Lin went so far as to proclaim that according to Marxist theory, the main component of the state is the military:

“The People’s Liberation Army is the mighty pillar of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Chairman Mao has pointed out many times: From the Marxist point of view the main component of the state is the army.”

Lin Biao was built up as Mao’s successor to such an extent that during the Ninth Congress, one of the very few congresses held in Chinese history, the idea of Lin as successor in the event of Mao’s resignation or death was literally written into the Constitution of the CPC. It was passed on April 14th, 1969. It stated:

“Comrade Lin Piao has consistently held high the great red banner of Mao Tse-tung’s Thought and he has most loyally and resolutely carried out the defended Comrade Mao Tse-tung’s proletarian revolutionary line. Comrade Lin Piao is Comrade Mao Tse-tung’s closest comrade-in-arms and successor.”

This favored position would not last. A mere four years later, on August 1973, the Tenth Party Congress stated:

“The Congress indignantly denounced the Lin Piao anti-Party clique for its crimes. All the delegates firmly supported this resolution of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China: Expel Lin Piao, the bourgeois careerist, conspirator, counter-revolutionary double-dealer, renegade and traitor from the Party once and for all.”

The events leading up to this posthumous denunciation are highly controversial. Lin Biao, along with several members of his family, died mysteriously in a plane crash over Mongolia in September 1971 in circumstances that are still heavily in dispute. It is generally accepted he was trying to flee to the Soviet Union. According to the official Chinese version of events, Lin Biao had attempted to initiate a pro-Soviet coup d’etat that would topple Mao Tse-tung and Zhou En-lai from power to establish a military dictatorship in China, and when he failed in this endeavor, he attempted to flee and sought refuge in the U.S.S.R. As the plane approached the Mongolian border, a gun fight broke out, causing it to crash. Whatever the case, Lin Biao and all on board died in the crash.

In his political diary, Albanian Marxist-Leninist leader Enver Hoxha characterized the Lin Biao affair as more frivolous than a James Bond thriller:

“The question arises: Why should Lin Piao murder Mao and why take his place, when he himself occupied precisely the main position after Mao, was his deputy appointed by the Constitution and by Mao himself? Lin Piao had great renown in China. The Cultural Revolution, ‘the work of Comrade Mao’, had built up his prestige. Then, what occurred for this ‘mutual political trust and the same ideological conviction’ between Mao and Lin Piao to suddenly disappear to the point that the latter organized an attempt on Mao’s life? And this act looks like an episode from ‘James Bond’”

(Hoxha, Reflections on China Vol. I, p. 465).

The rift between Mao and Lin needs to be expressed in solid political terms and not personal terms such as “lust for power” or “jealously” as bourgeois historians are so fond to do. Hard evidence on this matter seems to be scarce due to a lack of surviving evidence, but a few things are undeniable.

For example, Lin was on his way to the Soviet Union because of a split with Mao and his supporters over domestic and foreign policy. In September 1970, the grouping around Mao Tse-tung pressed for a Fourth Five-Year-Plan, which involved a massive program for mechanization of agriculture to be financed by reducing expenditure on the armed forces. This reduction was to be made possible by bringing about a détente with the United States. Lin Biao’s pro-Soviet faction opposed détente with the U.S. This was denounced by Mao and Zhou’s group as “ultra-leftism.” In December 1970, a movement began for a revival of the provincial Communist Party committees, which had been shattered by the Cultural Revolution. This was strongly opposed by Lin and the army leadership, since it would threaten the military’s ascendancy.

I see only two possibilities to this story, and both are somewhat related:

1) Lin Biao did plan and attempt to carry out a military coup against Mao because he wanted to “save” the country and the party from what he saw as a wrong course, or;

2) It was a conspiracy of the more pro-American elements of the CPC, including Mao and Zhou Enlai, to eliminate the most prominent opponent to their domestic and foreign policy.

In either case, clearly there was a huge rift with Mao’s policies, including regarding military control following the GPCR, and the controversial Chinese foreign policy of the late 1960s and 70s.

It is clear that the contradiction between Mao Tse-tung and Zhou Enlai’s group and Lin Biao’s group was a conflict between the wings of the CPC supporting reconciliation and alignment with U.S. imperialism and modernization of society, and supporting rapprochement with Soviet social-imperialism and the continuation of Lin’s “people’s war’ policies, respectively. In December 1970, Mao Tse-tung said American journalist Edgar Snow that he would like to meet President Nixon, and in July 1971, U.S. diplomat Henry Kissinger made a secret visit to China. People’s Daily announced soon after that Zhou Enlai had extended an invitation to Nixon to visit China. This no doubt further inflamed conflicts, and it was obvious there were rifts in the Party from 1970-71.

Declassified transcripts of Mao’s conversations with Nixon record him making an unmistakable reference to the “Lin Biao Affair” in 1972:

President Nixon: When the Chairman says he voted for me, he voted for the lesser of two evils.

Chairman Mao: I like rightists. People say you are rightists, that the Republican Party is to the right, that Prime Minister Heath is also to the right.

President Nixon: And General DeGaulle.

Chairman Mao: DeGaulle is a different question. They also say the Christian Democratic Party of West Germany is also to the right. I am comparatively happy when these people on the right come into power.

President Nixon: I think the important thing to note is that in America, at least at this time, those on the right can do what those on the left talk about.

Dr. Kissinger: There is another point, Mr. President. Those on the left are pro-Soviet and would not encourage a move towards the People’s Republic, and in fact criticize you on those grounds.

Chairman Mao: Exactly that. Some are opposing you. In our country also there is a reactionary group which is opposed to our contact with you. The result was they got on an airplane and fled abroad.

Prime Minister Chou: Maybe you know this.

Chairman Mao: Throughout the whole world, the U.S. intelligence reports are comparatively accurate. The next was Japan. As for the Soviet Union, they finally went to dig out the corpses, but they didn’t say anything about it.

Prime Minister Chou: In Outer Mongolia.”

Before long, China threw off its former policy of anti-imperialism, arguing for a strengthening of NATO, support for German reunification and West European integration, support for U.S.-Japanese Security Treaty, declining support for national liberation movements in South Asia, its support for reactionary “liberation” movements supported by imperialist powers (such as UNITA in Angola), and its support of the semi-colonies of imperialist powers, such as Iran, Pakistan, Zaire, fascist Chile and the Philippines.

So, now that I’ve finished this grand history lesson, how does this relate back to modern Maoism? More than you might think after reading, actually. Maoist supporters of the “new-democratic” theory of the Chinese Revolution, as well as the peasant-based theory of “people’s war” largely seek their justifications in Lin’s pamphlet. We have already examined Lin’s representation of the international situation in his 1965 pamphlet. Lin Biao, in an attempt to apply the Maoist concept of people’s war to the international struggle, pioneered an early version of Mao’s later “theory of three worlds” which perceives the world as being a global countryside surrounding a global city. His line as expressed in “Long Live The Victory of People’s War!” represents the absolutizing of the contradiction between imperialism and oppressed nations – and that, more than anything else, is what is key. Lin Biao’s ideas do not speak of the contradiction (at the time) between two opposing systems, socialism and capitalism, or of the contradiction between capital and labor in the capitalist countries, or of the contradiction between the imperialist powers. He misunderstands the entire foundation for the modern revolutionary movement, and raises his vision of the “global countryside” surrounding the “global city” out of dialectical context, treating it as the principal contradiction in the world.

Modern third-worldism is largely based on Lin Biaoism, though it has perhaps its earliest roots in the theories of Mirza Sultan-Galiyev. Sultan-Galiyev was a Tatar pan-Islamic nationalist opposed by Lenin and Stalin. He later began conspiratorial activity, including tried to ally with Trotsky but was rejected, and had ties to the anti-Soviet counterrevolutionary Bashmachi movement. Among other beliefs, Sultan-Galiyev thought that the Muslim peoples were “proletarian peoples” and thus national movements among them were socialist revolutions, that in places inhabited by Muslims, the Communist Party should “integrate” with Islam, which should be brought about by a special Muslim party, and that geographically large territorial units should be formed embracing as many Muslims as possible. He had dreams of creating a pan-Turanian Turkish-Tatar state stretching across Central Asia. He was eventually arrested for his conspiratorial activity and died in prison. Like Sultan-Galiyev, Lin Biao’s analysis is not class-based, and in fact Lin’s pamphlet contains theses very similar to that of “Sultan-Galiyevism”:

“If North American and western Europe can be called ‘the cities of the world’, then Asia, Africa and Latin America constitute ‘the rural areas of the world’…the contemporary world revolution…presents a picture of the encirclement of cities by the rural areas. In the final analysis, the whole cause of world revolution hinges on the revolutionary struggles of the Asian, African and Latin American peoples.”

Obviously, no Marxist can deny the contradiction between the imperialist powers and the colonial and semi-colonial countries, which is a major contradiction in the world we live in. Independence and national liberation struggles for independence and national sovereignty led against imperialism is a just struggle which deserves the support of Marxist-Leninists and the world proletariat. But that’s not all Lin Biao does. Here, while recognizing the existence of revolutionary situations and movement in countries in the “third world,” he treats the “third world” as an undifferentiated whole, exaggerating this situation into one in which the entire “third world” is ripe everywhere for revolution. What is also striking about his “countryside versus city” division of the world is his non-class view of the “third world,” its omission of the basic contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie and its disregarding of classes and class struggle within those countries, and an utter lack of analysis of the class nature of the regimes which rule there. This way the contradiction between the oppressed peoples and the reactionary and pro-imperialist powers is absolutized.

But the modern preachers of Lin Biaoism go further than to label the “third world” as leader of the liberation movement or the main force in the struggle against imperialism – frequently they proclaim it the only revolutionary force in the world. But to speak about the “third world” as the main force against imperialism and as the main force of the revolution such as the followers of Lin Biaoism, of third-worldism and other theories do ignores (or in some cases intentionally glosses over) the objective fact that the majority of the countries of the “third world” are ruled by agents of imperialism and neo-colonialism. The international view of Lin Biaoism belittles the size and importance of the comprador bourgeoisie and other pro-imperialist forces of the “third world.” To speak of the “third world” as a undifferentiated whole without making any distinction between genuine anti-imperialist revolutionary forces and pro-imperialist, reactionary and fascist ruling classes is to abandon the class struggle and the teachings of Marxism-Leninism openly. It means nothing less than to preach opportunism which cause confusion and disorder among the revolutionary proletariat.

Further, Lin Biaoism says that these countries are the “main anti-imperialist force” in the world. It logically stands to reason that it is not the business of revolutionaries to topple this “main force.” By now, it becomes increasingly apparent that Lin Biaoism is not a scientific approach to Marxism and is in opposition to proletarian internationalism. Lin Biao’s theories deny the role of the vanguard party in both the “third world” and the “first world” nations. Lin Biao’s concepts obscure the character of class struggle, creates illusions and misleads the people. Lin Biaoism is claimed by its followers to be the strategy for revolution today, and yet this strategy has no place for the proletariat or the Marxist-Leninist party. It claims to be a valuable contribution towards a proper analysis of the forces of the world, and yet classes are not mentioned.

Lin Biao’s theoretical understanding is eerily similar to that put forward by Karl Kautsky at the beginning of the century. Kautsky, on the eve of the First World War, postulated that in the field of international relations, a new age was approaching “in which the competition among states will be disabled by their cartel relationship.” He argued “there is nothing further to prevent […] finally replacing imperialism by a holy alliance of the imperialists.” This state of affairs is what he referred to as “Ultra Imperialism.” Kautsky falsely predicted the onset of a new phase of the elimination of contradictions between imperialist and capitalist states. This gave way to reformism, since it remained purely focused on combating “hegemonism” and sees imperialism as a policy, which could be adopted or rescinded at the whim of the ruling class, instead of the latest stage in the development of capitalism. Lenin in contrast, viewed imperialism as the highest and last stage of capitalism – monopoly capitalism that needs the domination of other countries and war. Lenin strongly criticized this theory of Kautsky’s, pointing out his denial of the connection between the rule of monopolies and imperialism, as well as his attempts to portray the rule of finance capital as somehow “lessening” the contradictions inherent in the world economy, when in reality it increases and aggravates them. Lenin summed up thusly:

“The question is: what means other than war could there be under capitalism to overcome the disparity between the development of productive forces and the accumulation of capital on the one side, and the division of colonies and spheres of influence for finance capital on the other?”

(V.I. Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism).

Uneven development among nations means that capitalists internationally frequently have radically different interests and not all of these interests can be met by full integration of their economic activity within the global marketplace. Any alliance, any “unity” within the capitalist camp is subject to how it benefits the profits of the individual capitalists within such an alliance. Unlike workers, who are able to reap benefits from the struggles of workers all over the world, a capitalist isn’t necessarily benefited by the success of other capitalists. As capitalists are forced to compete for what they perceive to be a limited number of material and market resources, the bonds which have formerly bound them begin to deteriorate.

Lin Biaoist formulations of the world proclaim no actual, concrete program for anti-imperialist struggle, or even for support of national liberation movements of oppressed peoples. What they do, quite in the style of the idealists of the past, is to cloak the question of revolution in bombastic-sounding phrases. Lin Biaoism implicitly capitulates to imperialism by including the reactionaries and comprador bourgeoisie in the same ranks as the people and the revolutionaries of the “third world.” This can only lead to obscuring the radical contradictions characteristic of the monopoly stage of capitalism. Interestingly, Lin Biao portrays imperialism as the main enemy of the world’s people, and yet the same set of theories were used by Hua Guofeng and Deng Xiaoping to ally themselves with imperialism. This is not just a lesson for those in the “first,” “second” or “third” worlds, but the entire world. While some of the supporters of the theory may disagree with specific tactics in the examples I have cited, the overall logic is inescapable.

Of course, there are a never-ending stream of national-chauvinist Marxists who stand ready and willing to assure us that this position of Lin’s conforms more closely to reality than, say, those of Trotsky, who in this case acts as a stand-in for anyone opposed to Lin Biao’s theories, or J. Sakai’s, or Sultan-Galiyev’s, or whoever they happen to be cheering on. These chauvinists are usually quick to conjure demons from oblivion at the sign of the slightest opposition to their theories, such as “Trotskyism” or “Eurocentric” Marxism. Sometimes they are even brave enough to challenge traditional Marxism, which they characterize as ‘Eurocentric” or “mechanical.” As we all know, Marxism consists of choosing between envisioning a dramatic repetition of the events of the Chinese Revolution on a global scale with isolated urban areas in a sea of peasant revolution, or being accused of Euro-chauvinism ourselves. The endless need of revisionists to figure out which demonstrably incorrect line is “closer” to reality never ceases to amaze me, and the debate between Trotskyism, a stand-in for supposedly “Eurocentric” traditional Marxism and Lin Biaoism and its proclamation that the the entire so-called “third world” or “global south” is ready and ripe for revolution is no exception to that.

Today there is much talk about the “first,” “second” or “third” world, a world of “colonized” countries versus “colonizer” countries, of the “global south versus the global north,” etc. All of these terms, of course, conceal the real class nature of these countries. But this is not all, oh no dear reader, not quite all indeed! For recently, these ideas have further paved the way for its modern adherents to apply class labels to entire nations, saying that the “first world” represents a global bourgeoisie and making such claims as the first world populations not representing the true proletariat. Some go even further, and take Lin Biaoist views to outright denying the first world proletariat’s revolutionary potential, dismissing it as inherently reactionary as a class. At first glance, nothing would appear stranger than a group of so-called Marxists in the first world decrying the revolutionary potential of its people. But in fact, it’s no secret that this odd trend of Maoism has emerged as one of the most outwardly vocal, if not particularly politically effective, voices on the American left in recent years.

Whether they claim there are no significant exploited groups in the first world, or that internally colonized peoples are the only real proletariat, or some other variation thereof, modern third-worldism attempts to peddle the same Lin Biaoist theories, despite what differences they may have. Some confuse class as income, while others do not. Some claim that class is one’s personal ideology, i.e. reactionary workers are bourgeois or labor aristocrat, while others do not. Some, like author J. Sakai, claim that every person of European descent in the United States is a net exploiter from the American colonies onwards, and that the U.S. has no proletariat of its own but exists parasitically on colonial peoples, oppressed nations and national minorities, whom he labels the “true proletariat.” Therefore, the entire white working class is reactionary rather than revolutionary and this has always been the case, and therefore working class solidarity between whites, blacks, Hispanics, Natives, Asians and other peoples is impossible. He recognizes white privilege in the form of Euro-American workers being a privileged labor aristocracy which possesses a petty-bourgeois reformist ideology rather than a revolutionary proletarian one. Sakai’s solution is to call for a kind of Bundist separatism, with each racial group creating its own independent organization.

Before I continue, it must be made clear that the labor aristocracy, that is, the stratum of highly-paid and privileged workers bribed by the imperialist bourgeoisie by means of superprofits extracted from colonies and neo-colonies, certainly exists. This has been recognized by all the Marxist classics ever since the strata of the labor aristocracy emerged in Britain in the mid-19th century. This tendency was recognized by Marx and Engels, and they traced this opportunism within the working class movement directly back to British imperialism:

“[T]he English proletariat is actually becoming more and more bourgeois, so that the ultimate aim of this most bourgeois of all nations would appear to be the possession, alongside the bourgeoisie, of a bourgeois aristocracy and a bourgeois proletariat. In the case of a nation which exploits the entire world this is, of course, justified to some extent”

(F. Engels, “Engels to Marx in London,” 7 October 1858).

These views remained consistent over the course of several decades, as seen in this letter from Engels to Kautsky dated twenty-four years later:

“You ask me what the English workers think about colonial policy. Well, exactly the same as they think about politics in general: the same as what the bourgeois think. There is no workers’ party here, there are only Conservatives and Liberal-Radicals, and the workers gaily share the feast of England’s monopoly of the world market and the colonies”

(F. Engels, “Engels to Karl Kautsky in Vienna,” 12 September 1882).

V.I. Lenin also identified the source of bribery for the labor aristocracy as the commercial and industrial monopoly of the imperialist countries and their export of capital to the colonial countries:

“Before the war [World War I – E.S.], it was calculated that the three richest countries—Britain, France and Germany—got between eight and ten thousand million francs a year from the export of capital alone, apart from other sources.

It goes without saying that, out of this tidy sum, at least five hundred millions can be spent as a sop to the labour leaders and the labour aristocracy, i.e., on all sorts of bribes. The whole thing boils down to nothing but bribery. It is done in a thousand different ways: by increasing cultural facilities in the largest centres, by creating educational institutions, and by providing co-operative, trade union and parliamentary leaders with thousands of cushy jobs. This is done wherever present-day civilised capitalist relations exist. It is these thousands of millions in super-profits that form the economic basis of opportunism in the working-class movement. In America, Britain and France we see a far greater persistence of the opportunist leaders, of the upper crust of the working class, the labour aristocracy; they offer stronger resistance to the Communist movement. That is why we must be prepared to find it harder for the European and American workers’ parties to get rid of this disease than was the case in our country. We know that enormous successes have been achieved in the treatment of this disease since the Third International was formed, but we have not yet finished the job; the purging of the workers’ parties, the revolutionary parties of the proletariat all over the world, of bourgeois influences, of the opportunists in their ranks, is very far from complete.”

(V.I. Lenin, “The Second Congress of the Communist International”)

“They [Social-Democrats] are just as much traitors to socialism… They represent that top section of workers who have been bribed by the bourgeoisie… for in all the civilised, advanced countries the bourgeoisie rob—either by colonial oppression or by financially extracting ‘gain’ from formally independent weak countries—they rob a population many times larger than that of ‘their own’ country. This is the economic factor that enables the imperialist bourgeoisie to obtain superprofits, part of which is used to bribe the top section of the proletariat and convert it into a reformist, opportunist petty bourgeoisie that fears revolution.”

(V.I. Lenin., “Letter to the Workers of Europe and America,” Pravda; No. 16, January 24, 1919)

Exploitation of the world by imperialist countries and their monopoly position on the global market, as well as their colonial possessions, allowed sections of their proletariat to become bourgeois, and allowed a section of their proletariat to allow themselves to be bribed by the bourgeoisie. Unlike modern third-worldists however, who dismiss the whole of the population of imperialist countries as unexploited and bourgeois, while recognizing the social and economic basis for opportunism and revisionism in the more developed countries, Lenin spoke of the labor aristocracy as a minority of the workers, and that it was the task of the revolutionaries to expose them:

“Neither we nor anyone else can calculate precisely what portion of the proletariat is following and will follow the social-chauvinists and opportunists. This will be revealed only by the struggle, it will be definitely decided only by the socialist revolution. But we know for certain that the ‘defenders of the fatherland’ in the imperialist war represent only a minority. And it is therefore our duty, if we wish to remain socialists to go down lower and deeper, to the real masses; this is the whole meaning and the whole purport of the struggle against opportunism. By exposing the fact that the opportunists and social-chauvinists are in reality betraying and selling the interests of the masses, that they are defending the temporary privileges of a minority of the workers, that they are the vehicles of bourgeois ideas and influences, that they are really allies and agents of the bourgeoisie, we teach the masses to appreciate their true political interests, to fight for socialism and for the revolution…”

(V.I. Lenin, “Imperialism and the Split in Socialism”).

He continued:

“The only Marxist line in the world labour movement is to explain to the masses the inevitability and necessity of breaking with opportunism, to educate them for revolution by waging a relentless struggle against opportunism […]”

(V.I. Lenin, “Imperialism and the Split in Socialism”).

Enver Hoxha analyzed the origins and class nature of the labor aristocracy, and noted its role in the advent of revisionism and reformism in the Communist Parties as well, particularly in Europe:

“The development of the economy in the West after the war [World War II – E.S.] also exerted a great influence on the spread of opportunist and revisionist ideas in the communist parties. True, Western Europe was devastated by the war but its recovery was carried out relatively quickly. The American capital which poured into Europe through the ‘Marshall Plan’ made it possible to reconstruct the factories, plants, transport and agriculture so that their production extended rapidly. This development opened up many jobs and for a long period, not only absorbed all the free labour force but even created a certain shortage of labour.

This situation, which brought the bourgeoisie great superprofits, allowed it to loosen its purse-strings a little and soften the labour conflicts to some degree. In the social field, in such matters as social insurance, health, education, labour legislation etc., it took some measures for which the working class had fought hard. The obvious improvement of the standard of living of the working people in comparison with that of the time of the war and even before the war, the rapid growth of production, which came as a result of the reconstruction of industry and agriculture and the beginning of the technical and scientific revolution, and the full employment of the work force, opened the way to the flowering amongst the unformed opportunist element of views about the development of capitalism without class conflicts, about its ability to avoid crises, the elimination of the phenomenon of unemployment etc. That major teaching of Marxism-Leninism, that the periods of peaceful development of capitalism becomes a source for the spread of opportunism, was confirmed once again. The new stratum of the worker aristocracy, which increased considerably during this period, began to exert an ever more negative influence in the ranks of the parties and their leaderships by introducing reformist and opportunist views and ideas.

Under pressure of these circumstances, the programs of these communist parties were reduced more and more to democratic and reformist minimum programs, while the idea of the revolution and socialism became ever more remote. The major strategy of the revolutionary transformation of society gave way to the minor strategy about current problems of the day which was absolutized and became the general political and ideological line.”

(Enver Hoxha. Eurocommunism is Anti-Communism. Tirana: 8 Nëntori Publishing House. 1980. pp. 82-83.)

So as we can see, the correct Marxist-Leninist analysis of the labor aristocracy was upheld by all the classics. However, none of this says that a proletariat ceases to exist in those countries. In contrast, modern “third-worldism,” sometimes called “Maoism Third-Worldism” and sometimes not, is the belief that first world workers are non-revolutionary and have the status of a global labor aristocracy lacking a proletarian revolutionary consciousness or revolutionary potential at all, since supposedly imperial capital has tamed them with flashy electronics and consumer products, thus bribing them into passivity. Thus, according to this mode of thought, first world leftists must place their hopes for a revolution on the peoples of the third world. This set of ideas was a common theme in the Maoist-inspired student movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Others since then, particularly since the 1980s, have taken this further and claimed that first world workers actually aren’t exploited at all, and are paid more than the value of their labor, thus making them part of the bourgeoisie complicit in exploiting the third world. In this version of the formulation, the first world is outright reactionary altogether. The only debate between the two types is whether there are any significantly exploited groups in the first world at all, such as prisoners, lumpenproletarians, blacks, Chicanos, etc., or if these people also share in the exploitation of the third world along with their white counterparts.

One of the most common characteristics of modern third-worldism is the tendency to blame the “first world” masses for not rising against capital, and to uphold this as evidence that they posses no revolutionary potential at all. This is especially curious as third-worldists exist almost exclusively within the “first world” themselves, and then mostly in the United States. To explain how they arrived at their revolutionary consciousness, such as it is, they are obliged to make metaphors to individuals like John Brown, and claim that the real reason socialism is not victorious in “first world” countries is that the people there recognize their material interests in following the imperialist bourgeoisie. Some even negate class as an economic classification by saying having a reactionary ideology also makes them labor aristocrats. Of course, if one blames “first world” workers for following and identifying with the dominant ideology of the bourgeoisie, the logical conclusion is to use that same standard for the large amounts of reactionary ideology in the “third world,” too, which tellingly, none of them dare to do. As Marx famously wrote:

“The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it”

(Karl Marx, “The German Ideology”).

What third-worldists fail to realize is that part and parcel of the material conditions in the U.S. is being subjected to the most powerful, most all pervasive, most advanced apparatus of ideological hegemony the world has ever known. In essence they are asking why socialist ideas are not more widely accepted in the country with the most powerful, advanced, developed and pervasive capitalist media. Most chauvinist of all their justification in relying on the “third world” workers to make the revolution there is that in contrast to the workers in developed countries, who apparently enjoy too many benefits in their minds, the “third world” workers are truly the only one who “have nothing to lose but their chains.” Words cannot describe how incredibly ignorant, and more than that patronizing it is for someone living in the “first world” to point their finger at the entire working class of various nations and declare that they have “nothing to lose” and thus should rise up and potentially face maiming, torture and death so that the third-worldist can sit in his comfortable air-conditioned domicile and post photos expressing “solidarity” on social media. It is strictly up to the parties, organizations and workers themselves in those countries to determine if the time and conditions are ripe for a revolution. Until then, it is arrogant, and dare I say racist, to declare that the entire working population of vast nations have “nothing to lose.” If these renegades actually visited a developing country, they might find that everywhere they went they could find people who would strongly disagree they have “nothing to lose.”

The absolutizing of the phrase which famously ends the Manifesto, namely that the workers “have nothing to lose but their chains,” is just one more example of a recent trend of making political stances out of simple slogans, and increased sloganeering to disguise political dishonesty or even reaction. It’s obvious to any ready that the original phrase was meant by Marx and Engels as a rallying call, instead of an excuse to only classify those people who “have nothing to lose” as revolutionaries or workers. Everyone on the planet, even those living in the most miserable conditions, have “something to lose,” if only their lives and their families. 

It is accurate to say that the roots of modern third-worldism are based in Maoism itself, in the peasant-based theories of Mao and especially Lin Biao. The three worlds theory, or the “theory of the three-part world” developed by Mao Tse-tung in 1974 was based entirely on China’s strategic interests. It was part of Chinese foreign policy in the 1970s as I have mentioned, and part of it was claiming U.S. imperialism was weak, citing for example its defeat in Vietnam, whereas Soviet social-imperialism was a rising and more dangerous imperialist power and a growing threat to humanity, akin to Nazi Germany. This position was supported dogmatically under Hua Guofeng but quietly dropped in the 1980s after the rise of Deng Xiaoping to the leadership of China when Sino-Soviet ties improved. But, as reactionary and mistaken as Mao’s three worlds theory might have been, and opportunist and anti-communist as was the Chinese foreign policy during that era, one cannot say Mao Tse-tung was a third-worldist in the modern sense by any stretch of the imagination. As perverse as the “theory of the three worlds” might be, present-day third-worldists are a perversion even of that shaky theoretical basis.

Modern “third-worldism” – which is an ideological variety of Lin Biaoism – existing outside of the internet has always been negligible. While some early third-worldist movements did exist as activists, none of them have been particularly large and were soon reduced almost exclusively to an internet presence. This has been the case since then. It can therefore be (rightly) inferred that third-worldists almost never have first-hand experience of life and material conditions or conditions of struggle in “third world” countries. It’s always struck me as curious that third-worldism has little to no following in the “third world” itself.

Indeed, the most commonly heard statement comrades from the “third world” made to American Marxist-Leninists is that our struggle here, in the very heart of imperialism, will be decisive. Mao Tse-tung himself made many such statements, such as this one from 1970:

“While massacring the people in other countries, U.S. imperialism is slaughtering the white and black people in its own country. Nixon’s fascist atrocities have kindled the raging flames of the revolutionary mass movement in the United States. The Chinese people firmly support the revolutionary struggle of the American people. I am convinced that the American people who are fighting valiantly will ultimately win victory and that the fascist rule in the United States will inevitably be defeated”

(Mao Tse-tung, “People of the World, Unit and Defeat the U.S. Aggressors and All Their Running Dogs”).

As far back as 1949, Mao spoke of the class struggles within the United States between the people and the ruling class:

“To start a war, the U.S. reactionaries must first attack the American people. They are already attacking the American people – oppressing the workers and democratic circles in the United States politically and economically and preparing to impose fascism there. The people of the United States should stand up and resist the attacks of the U.S. reactionaries. I believe they will”

(Mao Tse-tung, “Talk with American Correspondent Anna Louise Strong”).

As well, in a telegram to William Z. Foster in 1945, Mao wrote regarding the defeat of of Earl Browder’s revisionist and liquidationist line:

“Beyond all doubt the victory of the U.S. working class and its vanguard, the Communist Party of the United States, over Browder’s revisionist-capitulationist line will contribute signally to the great cause in which the Chinese and American peoples are engaged the cause of carrying on the war against Japan and of building a peaceful and democratic world after the war”

(Mao Tse-tung, “Telegram to Comrade William Z. Foster”).

In 1963, Mao also issued a statement supporting working class solidarity in the United States against systematic racism:

“I call upon the workers, peasants, revolutionary intellectuals, enlightened elements of the bourgeoisie, and other enlightened personages of all colours in the world, white, black, yellow, brown, etc., to unite to oppose the racial discrimination practiced by U.S. imperialism and to support the American Negroes in their struggle against racial discrimination. In the final analysis, a national struggle is a question of class struggle. In the United States, it is only the reactionary ruling clique among the whites which is oppressing the Negro people. They can in no way represent the workers, farmers, revolutionary intellectuals, and other enlightened persons who comprise the overwhelming majority of the white people. At present, it is the handful of imperialists, headed by the United States, and their supporters, the reactionaries in different countries, who are carrying out oppression, aggression and intimidation against the overwhelming majority of the nations and peoples of the world. They are the minority, and we are the majority. At most they make up less than ten percent of the 3,000 million people of the world”

(Mao Tse-tung, “Statement Supporting the Afro-Americans in their Just Struggle Against Racial Discrimination by U.S. Imperialism”).

And again in 1968:

“Racial discrimination in the United States is a product of the colonialist and imperialist system. The contradiction between the Black masses in the United States and the U.S. ruling circles is a class contradiction. Only by overthrowing the reactionary rule of the U.S. monopoly capitalist class and destroying the colonialist and imperialist system can the Black people in the United States win complete emancipation. The Black masses and the masses of white working people in the United States have common interests and common objectives to struggle for. Therefore, the Afro-American struggle is winning sympathy and support from increasing numbers of white working people and progressives in the United States. The struggle of the Black people in the United States is bound to merge with the American workers’ movement, and this will eventually end the criminal rule of the U.S. monopoly capitalist class”

(Mao Tse-tung, “A New Storm Against Imperialism”).

As I’ve already shown, Lin Biao’s line, which is much more closely followed by modern third-worldists, saw the primary contradiction in the world as between the global city and global countryside, or the exploited poor countries versus the wealthy imperialist countries, imagining people’s war on a global scale. Some even go as far to say that the waging of people’s war is the true test if a movement is truly communist or not. Third-worldists today uphold the theories of Lin Biao and largely reject the Chinese policies during this period, accusing the Chinese leadership, and even Mao Tse-tung himself, of “first-worldism” for supporting the class struggles of the workers in the “first world.” Of course, revolutionaries in the “third world” saying the working class in the “first world” also wage a decisive struggle are not limited to Mao himself.

Cuban poet and revolutionary José Martí once spoke a phrase which was popularized by Ernesto “Che” Guevara: “I envy you. You North Americans are very lucky. You are fighting the most important fight of all – you live in the heart of the beast.”

During the anti-colonial wars in Vietnam against the French, Ho Chi Minh spoke of the French working class as an ally against the French imperialists:

“If the French imperialists think that they can suppress the Vietnamese revolution by means of terror, they are grossly mistaken. For one thing, the Vietnamese revolution is not isolated but enjoys the assistance of the world proletariat in general and that of the French working class in particular.”

(Ho Chi Minh, “Appeal made on the Occasion of the Founding of the Indochinese Communist Party”).

Ho Chi Minh further said he considered the French and Vietnamese proletariat as two forces which ought to unite together in a common struggle against the French ruling class:

“The mutual ignorance of the two proletariats [French and Vietnamese] gives rise to prejudices. The French workers look upon the native as an inferior and negligible human being, incapable of understanding and still less of taking action. The natives regard all the French as wicked exploiters. Imperialism and capitalism do not fail to take advantage of this mutual suspicion and this artificial racial hierarchy to frustrate propaganda and divide forces which ought to unite”

(Ho Chi Minh, “Some Considerations of the Colonial Question”).

He even spoke of the line, notably from the Second International, that people in developed countries and people in colonial and semi-colonial countries should not unite, supporting the line of Lenin and Stalin in calling it reactionary:

“I will explain myself more clearly. In his speech on Lenin and the national question Comrade Stalin said that the reformists and leaders of the Second International dared not align the white people of the colonies with their coloured counterparts. Lenin also refused to recognize this division and pushed aside the obstacle separating the civilized slaves of imperialism from the uncivilized slaves.

According to Lenin, the victory of the revolution in Western Europe depended on its close contact with the liberation movement against imperialism in enslaved colonies and with the national question, both of which form a part of the common problem of the proletarian revolution and dictatorship.

Later, Comrade Stalin spoke of the viewpoint which held that the European proletarians can achieve success without a direct alliance with the liberation movement in the colonies. And he considered this a counter-revolutionary viewpoint”

(Ho Chi Minh, “Report on the National and Colonial Questions at the Fifth Congress of the Communist International”).

In 1926, J.V. Stalin wrote the following in regards to the workers of Western Europe in supporting the Bolshevik revolution:

“Without the support of the workers of the West we could scarcely have held out against the enemies surrounding us. If this support should later develop into a victorious revolution in the West, well and good. Then the victory of socialism in our country will be final”

(J.V. Stalin, “The Possibility of Building Socialism in our Country”).

Modern third-worldists, whether they base themselves on Lin Biao, Franz Fanon, Sultan-Galiyev, J. Sakai or any number of other theoreticians, claim there is a divergence between “European” socialism and oppressed nations, the countries of the “third world.” These ideas are responsible for the strengthening of the notions of “African socialism,” “Arab socialism” and various other incarnations which claim that Marxism and Leninism are only for Europeans, only for white people. It must be asked: what then, separates the Lin Biaoists from bourgeois nationalists? Indeed, what separates them at all from anti-communists? As we can see, to disparage “first world” workers as an overall counterrevolutionary class and proclaim that “third world” workers are the only ones with truly nothing to lose, and to reject solidarity between them is anti-Marxist, liquidates proletarian internationalism and ignores any idea of revolutionary connectivity between the “third” and “first” worlds. The American left has had to put up with constant subversion of revisionist, counterrevolutionary and bourgeois politics which derail the worker’s movement, and that includes those embracing the Lin Biaoist or third-worldist line.

Lin Biao, like Mao Tse-tung during his “three worlds” period, like Karl Kautsky during his opportunist period, and like the sorry assortment of modern Lin Biaoists, rely on empty and bombastic phrase-mongering, petty-bourgeois pipe dreams represented as the highest r-r-revolutionary Utopianism coupled with a lack of analysis of the real functioning and foundations of the modern economic system.

For some of these pseudo-Marxists, they do not qualify either as Lin Biaoists or third-worldists because of some various trivial minutiae, such as not outwardly calling themselves such labels, such complexity does their ideology have, you see, that it defies categorization except that which is convenient for its defenders. I do not seek to say that all the differing theories I use as examples of this tendency are precisely the same; what I’d like to point out is the common failing between Lin Biaoism, the theories of Sultan-Galiyev, Kautsky’s “ultra-imperialism,” Mao’s “theory of the three worlds,” and modern third-worldists.

What these theories demonstrate is that there are problems when one is too quick to apply phenomenon which can be empirically understood at the national level to phenomena occurring internationally. Many theorists have made such non-class-based arguments in which the old notions of class struggle and imperialism are replaced by more “global” perspectives which perceive the main contradictions within capitalism taking place globally. Inevitably, these ideas later lead those theorists and their adherents to anti-Marxist, anti-scientific conclusions which would render their theories less useful for a concrete understanding of capitalism on the world stage. There are problems which arise in trying to mechanically and haphazardly apply these contradictions in a global way.

The triumph and realization of the proletarian revolution is the main aim of our historical epoch. It must and will necessarily permeate all countries without exception, among them the ones in both the “third” and “first” worlds, regardless of their level of development, and regardless at which stages the revolution will be accomplished. Disregarding this universal law and theorizing about whole nations being labor aristocrats, forgetting the fight against the comprador bourgeoisie, evaluating “third world” countries in a chauvinist way and opposing proletarian internationalism can only mean being neither for national liberation or for proletarian revolution. The proletarian revolution must and will triumph in Africa, Asia, the Americas and in Europe, too. Whoever forgets or distorts this perspective and doesn’t actively fight towards this aim, but instead preaches that the revolution has shifted and that the proletariat of certain countries has to either acknowledge itself as inherently reactionary, or ally itself with its “third world” bourgeoisie, is someone who takes a revisionist and reactionary stance.

While Lin Biao deserves credit for his distinguished career as a military officer in the Chinese Civil War, his theories are not a suitable replacement for the Leninist understanding of imperialism and revolution. Given the profound theoretical problems in Lin Biao’s conceptions of a “global countryside” and “global city,” and the evolution of his supporter’s chauvinist theories, I argue based on the evidence I have presented that the Leninist model is still the best framework for understanding the machinations of the capitalist and imperialist system internationally, even in this moment where ephemeral fashionable words like “third world” and “global south” are on everyone’s lips.

In conclusion, perhaps Lenin said it best:

“The flight of some people from the underground could have been the result of their fatigue and dispiritedness. Such individuals may only be pitied; they should be helped because their dispiritedness will pass and there will again appear an urge to get away from philistinism, away from the liberals and the liberal-labour policy, to the working-class underground. But when the fatigued and dispirited use journalism as their platform and announce that their flight is not a manifestation of fatigue, or weakness, or intellectual woolliness, but that it is to their credit, and then put the blame on the ‘ineffective,’ ‘worthless,’ ‘moribund,’ etc., underground, these runaways then become disgusting renegades, apostates. These runaways then become the worst of advisers for the working-class movement and therefore its dangerous enemies”

(V.I. Lenin, “How Vera Zasulich Demolishes Liquidationism”).

One response to “Lin Biaoism and the Third World: How Idealism Distorts Class

  1. Pingback: Color Me Unimpressed: Rejoinder to Jason Unruhe | The Espresso Stalinist