Discussion Notes 1: Three Fragmentary Theses

On the Politico-theoretical Problematic posed by
the Current Phase of the Indian Maoist Movement for Working Class Politics

Pothik Ghosh


The question of overcoming the problem of systemic cooption that faces the Maoist insurgency raging in certain tribal and preponderantly agrarian (in the sense of socio-occupational geography) areas of the country is essentially a question of how to beat the legal-illegal dichotomy that is constitutive of capitalism – a system made possible only in and through contradictions – and its horizon of legality. (This threat of cooption confronts the current Maoist movement – as it indeed would and does any movement against the ways and codes of dominant institutions that regulate and reinforce the various sectors of capitalist life – either in the form of the movement being determined and articulated by the dualised logic of capitalist regulation that compels it to envisage itself as responding to a war while fighting it; or in the form of being accommodated by and within the given form/forms of the capitalist state.) This question, of course in being posed but also in being answered, also gives rise to a corollary in that it posits the problematic of how a workers’ opposition to a state formed through revolutionary eruption can, because of such opposition and not despite it, retain its working-class orientation. To get back to the Maoist movement, the problem of its subsumption by capitalism – manifest either as its cooption within the given capitalist state-forms or in its determination and articulation by the dualised logic of the capitalist state even as it is apparently still in its movemental moment – can be effectively dealt with and beaten only when the ‘illegal’ ontology, which is seeking to become yet another law in and through its dualism-articulated struggle against the prevailing law to displace it from its legitimate place to occupy it, is challenged from within its own zone where it has already become, both structurally and functionally, the law. Before we proceed any further we would do well to realise that an ontology of working-class resistance, which is designated as illegal within the dualised horizon of capitalist legality, is an ontology that in its formation is an expression of the tendency to transgress and unravel the horizon of capitalist legality and thus move beyond the legal-illegal duality and contradiction it constitutively engenders. But this ontology gets designated (or symbolised) as ‘illegal’ because of its struggle against the prevailing law, which maintains and reinforces the capitalist horizon of conflict and contradiction that the struggle of this ontology in its formation seeks to transcend. Simply put, the foundational translegal or law-unraveling manoeuvre of an ontology of resistance comes to be designated as illegal because of the inescapable duality inherent in all struggles, of which its specific struggling orientation too is an intrinsic part. The recognition of the necessity of this duality, to paraphrase Engels, is constitutive of the freedom called dialectic.

But the only way this endogenous challenge against the law-constituting structure and function of the ‘illegal’ ontology at its own location can become truly translegal – which would mean it does not acquiesce to or align with the established law against which the ‘illegal’ is ranged – is when the given horizon of capitalist ‘legality’ that is maintained and reinforced by the established law is sought to be decimated through a proliferating series of determinate and simultaneous challenges to it at its various multiple locations. These challenges, needless to say, are specific manoeuvres to overcome the capitalist horizon of the legal and the legal-illegal dichotomy it constitutively engenders at each of those respective specific locations. These challenges or manoeuvres, in their continuous proliferation, come to constitute the totality of the horizon of trans-capitalist process, which is the inverse opposite (negativity) of the capitalist horizon of legality and ontological fixities. This real horizon of continuous motion, in emerging as an inversely opposite (negative) alternative to the symbolist horizon of ontological fixities through critical transcendence and displacement of the latter, and its constitutive logic of duality, overcomes, in terms of concrete situation, the state and the law. That, clearly, renders the twin or binary conceptions of legal-illegal redundant. This is the theoretical essence of Marx’s idea of “revolution in permanence”, which Mao Zedong complemented through refoundation in the Chinese conditions through his formulation of the “two-line struggle”. Such an understanding, and its deployment, brings to fore and makes one sensitive to the ineluctable operation of dual power in a working-class revolutionary struggle. It, therefore, indicates why it’s impossible to conceive of completing a socialist revolution in one country, or one socio-occupational geographic zone, to the exclusion of all else.


To grasp this impossibility and go beyond it – especially with regard to the current Maoist movement being stuck in its ‘original’ tribal-peasant socio-occupational zones – we need to understand that the history of capitalism is a history of contradictions. Its various moments are, as a consequence, pitted against each other, even as each of those moments are constituted by contradictions and duality that are determinate (or specific) in terms of their respective formal configurations of the general political economy of alienating and competitive capitalism. So, the universal political-economic logic of contradiction and duality, which constitutes the specific forms of such contradictions and duality in particular moments of history – which in turn have been particularised and have thus congealed into conflictive locations with regard to one another – has to be grasped in its determinateness. Therefore, the theoretical (subjective or vanguardist) outside, which was envisaged by Lenin in his attempt to theorise the party in What is to be Done and which has been integral to the Leninist practice ever since, must be seen as the expression of the one in a determinate moment of contradictory and dualised history of capitalism. The ontological form through which the logic of the one expresses itself at a determinate moment should, precisely because of its determinateness, be seen as specific to that moment and therefore provisional. It must not be mistaken, as it often is both by the upholders and detractors of Leninist vanguardism, for a transhistorical ontology, which actually implies the imposition of a form that expresses the logic of the one at particular historical moment of contradiction and duality on another logically similar but historically (and thus idiomatically) different moment of capitalism.

Each of these historically different moments of capital must, however, be seen as arising internally from one another through a process of internal motion that is wrought by determinate subjective interventions in their momentary and thus ontic specificity. This motion is really a process of quantitative changes (at the historical-formal level) leading to a qualitative mutation of and rupture from that given historical form or idiom. This will obviate the Althusserian absolutisation of relative autonomy of various moments or levels of capital’s lived history. Althusser’s idea of relative autonomy is productive when we are envisaging intervention at specific moments in their determinateness but not when we see the entire capitalist system in the totality of the process it must become in order to supersede itself. In other words, the determinate intervention at a specific historical moment must be seen to be giving rise to a new moment of duality that must be intervened in if the spirit of the preceding intervention – overcoming duality and contradiction to obtain to the one – is to be sustained by discerning the logic of that prior intervention in the new moment into which the preceding one has unfolded and in the process has obscured the possibility of relocating that logic by dislocating it. So, intervention has to be envisaged both in terms of the given segmentised and fragmentary stasis of the capitalist system and the internal continuity of its own motion. This means that the former type of intervention needs to be correlated with and envisaged as the latter. For, that is how it actually is, and must be seen, refracted through the prism of terms of its own logic of transcending segmentised duality to obtain to the one – the process expressed and constituted through and in the critical manoeuvre of dissolving its preceding congealed momentary appearances.


B.T. Ranadive’s ‘Russian’ and ‘Trotskyite’ line during the Telangana movement of accomplishing revolution through general strike and mass insurrection in the cities is, in the context of the failure of the current Maoist insurgency to move beyond its tribal-peasant bases, particularly valid today. The practitioners of this line must, however, know that its validity is contingent on the line not falling into the undialectical and partial (in Laclau’s sense) trap of envisaging itself as privileged over the Maoists’ model of agrarian (New Democratic) revolution, which is fully valid within its own determinate socio-occupational geography. This line must, in its articulation, see itself in constellational continuity with the localised, momentary anti-capitalist form of the Maoist agrarian revolutionary movement only insofar as that form emerges as an expression of the trans-capitalist and thus processual constitutive logic at that historical moment or location of the rural-tribal-agrarian. The form in question is an expression of the trans-capitalist processual logic in its formative and enunciative moment and this moment must, therefore, be distinguished from the congealed, institutionalised moment of the form when/where the formalised content or the logic of the form per se dominates. (This constellational logic could be understood through Lefebvre’s recognition of “revolution lagging behind itself”; or in an Adornoesque-Benjaminian vein articulated as the momentary forms of the revolutionary process being registered and grasped as the various afterimages of its processual essence. This constellational logic could also be stated in Althusserian terms by envisaging the various localised or momentary forms of the working-class struggle as traces or effects of their respective foundational encounters in order to overcome the necessity those forms exude in their particularity of being free and floating signifiers.) This constellational logic of revolution is conceptualised in Negri’s Spinozist-Marxist idea of the multitude, which rightly sees the historical forms or socio-occupational subjects enacting the singular logic called the working class multiple. This naturally renders the party of the working class movemental, and the vanguard dynamically hierarchical. Many of our current comrades, who kind of propose the Ranadive line of urban strikes leading up to a mass insurrection as a ground from which to critique the Maoists, make precisely the same non-constellational, ‘workerist’ (sectionalist) mistake as committed by Ranadive in the context of the Telangana peasant movement of the undivided CPI in the late forties and early fifties.

Their critique of Mao’s model of agrarian revolution and his formulation of “New Democracy” is plagued by the same problem for they are unable to see how those anti-capitalist forms – which Mao posed at a specific, Chinese moment of the unfolding of the global revolutionary process – have been constituted through the determinate enactment of the trans-capitalist and trans-ontological processual logic in the specificity of their socio-occupational, political geographic and historico-temporal moment. This error could, however, be averted if Mao’s Chinese Revolution is not seen as a one-time occurrence that ended in 1949, but is situated in constellational continuity with Mao’s praxes embodied in what has subsequently come to be known as “The Great Leap Forward” and the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” and which constituted the unfolding of the revolutionary logic of Mao’s China that had congealed in the state form through the ‘seizure’ of power by the Communist Party of China in 1949 precisely because of that congealment. These two moments of Mao’s praxis can be clearly seen to be embodying (or performing) his idea of what he called “continuous revolution”.[Mao explicated this theory of his in, among other places, a speech to Supreme State Conference on January 28, 1958, where he clearly stated, “I advocate the theory of the permanent revolution. You must not think that this is Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution. In making revolution, one must strike while the iron is hot, one revolution following another; the revolution must advance without interruption….” He expanded on this formulation in his Sixty Articles on Work Methods when he wrote, “ideological and political struggle among men as well as revolution will continue to exist forever and universally…”.] Clearly then, this theory of Mao’s was a re-enactment of Marx’s formulation of “revolution in permanence”. [See Marx’s The Class Struggles in France 1848 to 1850 for this formulation.]

Mao’s continuous revolution was nothing but the codification of the practice of mobilisation – through “The Great Leap Forward” and the Cultural Revolution – of the emerging new social subject of working-class politics to critically undermine and supersede the inevitable institutionalisation and congealment of his earlier “New Democratic” moment of the trans-capitalist revolutionary process. That, in phenomenological terms, meant the waging of struggle to eliminate the nomenklatura and “capitalist roaders” in the party. The nomenklatura and capitalist roaders can, generally speaking, be designated as the bureaucratised elite of a Communist Party when it ceases to be a movement-form to become a state-form. In the specific instance of Mao’s China, this elite, which signified the restoration of capitalism through its embodiment of the differential (and thus bourgeois) configuration of class power, had been formed as a result of the congealment, institutionalisation and statisation of the global revolutionary process enunciated by and constitutive of the form of the Communist Party of China at its New Democratic moment. [Though these moments of revolution have, in the specific experience and praxis of Mao’s China, turned out to be posed in the frame of successive temporality, that is not necessarily how revolutionary moments would always become discernible. Our position vis-à-vis the Maoist movement here, for instance, shows that different moments ripe for revolutionary, working-class intervention inhabit the same temporal moment (in scalar terms) of a temporality that empirically has just the vector (or teleology) of capitalism, but are separated in their being located within different socio-occupational geographies. The overgeneralisation that the Indian Maoists have been effecting through their dogmatic and Stalinised adherence to the formalisation of the revolutionary experience and practice in the New Democratic, agrarian revolutionary moment of Mao’s China has led to the conflation of the processual revolutionary essence and the form that essence constituted in the process of expressing itself determinately at a specific moment of its unfolding. This has meant the undermining of the processual, historico-logical or, what Moishe Postone calls the quasi-objective, character of the revolutionary operation. That has, not surprisingly, brought the Indian Maoists and some of their ‘workerist’ critics on the same page in terms of the theoretical approach they have adopted to expand the current Maoist movement or in criticising this endeavour respectively. The tenor of the latter’s rejection of Mao’s and the Maoist forms of intervention indicates they are not willing to distinguish the dualising logic of those forms per se in their moment of congealment from the processual revolutionary logic they constitutively express. They throw the baby with the bathwater even as the Maoists, whom they seek to criticise, envisage the bathwater itself to be the baby.]

To come back to the praxis of continuous revolution in revolutionary China, the Mao who is a living, practising embodiment of this idea of continuous revolution is many as each time he is organic to the multiple, constellationally bound – essentially united and therefore formally conflicted — social subjects of the working-class logic. Thus Mao’s emphasis on constantly occupying the antithetical position – so much so that in his understanding of the dialectic there is no moment of synthesis – (Zizek on Mao in In Defence of Lost Causes) renders his individuality into that of a trans-subjective revolutionary, which is composed of both his institutionalisation and his own iconoclasm vis-à-vis the congealment of his preceding revolutionary selves. His practice led to the Communist Party of China being envisaged as a horizon of movement-form that is constitutive of the unfolding of the constant dialectical dance of congealment and decongealment; institutionalisation and deinstitutionalisation; revolution-restoration-and-revolution; and negation, negation of negation, negation of negation of negation ad infinitum. The Indian Maoists’ claim that they are capable of repeating Mao on this score is erroneous as their conceptualisation of the Maoist path flows from their reification of Mao’s specific experience of revolutionary moments in the form of linear temporal succession of stages.

As a result, they fail to see the many subjectivities embodied in Mao the individual in multiple moments that are in logical continuity through and because of the conflict of their congealed momentary forms with one another. Thus the assertion of various intellectuals, sympathetic to the CPI (Maoist), to make the logic of the Maoist movement unfold is nothing but a proposal to spread ‘Maoism’ through the overgeneralisation of the locally valid and localised experience and resultant practice of the CPI (Maoist) in its tribal-agrarian socio-occupational zones. Such a proposal implies, tendentially, the authoritarian and coercive imposition of the party and its ‘revolution’ as state-forms on a heterogeneity of working-class experiences. This is clearly a Blanquist programme of envisaging revolution in terms of capturing the twin and constitutively twinned spheres of circulation and regulation without transforming the sphere of capitalist production through the decimation of value creation, which is a constant realisation of the tendency to make the state and its function of distributing value wither away. For, the persistence or emergence of the state, and the circulation-distribution spheres that it is constitutively integral to, retroactively implies the creation and extraction of value at the point of production. Such a Blanquist strategy, needless to say, undermines the communist invariant of the one (revolutionary process) a la Badiou (Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism) and restores  capitalism and its foundational logic of dualised contradiction, existence of classes and (class) differences and class domination.

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