Earlier this week, on my Curious Cat profile, someone asked me “In what ways would you positively or negatively critique Maoism-Third Worldism as a concept, and also in its various manifestations as organizations?” Originally I tried to answer on the question on that plaform, but I quickly exceeded its spatial limits. I then tried to move it to Twitter, which is where most of my Curious Cat questioners ultimately originate from, but I also eventually eclipsed the amount of times it would allow the addition of new tweets. My borrowed university laptop also slows down considerably when attempting to make long Facebook posts, so I did not even consider attempting to post it there, and that likely would not have been seen by the original person who asked the question asthir it is.
So, given that, I have decided to transform this answer into a short blog article. I will do my best to spell out both my agreements and disagreements, as well as organizational thoughts, on the milieu that is often called Maoism-Third Worldism. I will say though, for clarity’s sake, here at he beginning that, in terms of organizations, I will be largely discussing the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement, as that is the group I am most familiar with, and have had the most interactions with, though I have also interacted much less at times with organizations like the Maoist International Movement / Maoist Internationalist Ministry of Prisons, and the Leading Light Communist Organization. I will not be discussing white, First World cosplayers like Jason Unruhue.
With that preamble out of the way, I would like to also preface this by saying that I did consider myself a Maoist (Third Worldist) for a time. After regular readers may know, I began to become involved in leftist thought of some form probably when I was around sixteen-years old. I declared myself initially to be some sort of anarcho-syndicalist, but not out of any kind of highly developed political analysis; I simply knew that during the Russian Revolution of 1917 that those forces had been to the left of the Bolsheviks, and that was how I felt my politics politics aligned. That was probably my political state until I was around nineteen-years old. That was when I really started studying leftist theory. As a result I bounced around between several different tendencies for years trying to find a footing that made sense. I dabbled in variants of posttrotskyism, though the New Socialists and Solidarity, even joining the former for a time, as well as postmaoism through the The Road/El Camino (formerly one of the two organizations called the Freedom Road Socialist Organization). I was a even a member earlier on of the Industrial Workers of the World earlier, and also chatted regularly with people involved in the now defunct Kasama Project.
Throughout all of that I always new about Third Worldism—especially the works and authors associated with what I now tend to call Sakaiism: J. Sakai, of course, as well as Butch Lee and the pair of E. Tani & Kae Sera. However, it would probably be best to say that I thought I knew about them, because the information that I was fed was such that it only helped to develop a set negative assumptions and misrepresentations of their work. Sakai’s writings, and those of his cohorts, was then, and largely still is today, complete anathema to most of the left and there have been moments when the settler-aligned left has felt the need to actively attack them. For example the New Socialists too this day circulate what I would come to realize only later was a complete non-review of Sakai’s important, and most well known work, Settlers: The Mythology of the White Proletariat (2014), and to a lessor extent the Kersplebedeb published interview pamphlet When Race Burns Class (nd), by the author Sebastian Lamb (2003). Likewise the Upping the Anti collective and journal, founded initially by people who had split from the New Socialist after turning to more anarchist and autonomist-oriented socialisms, published a hit piece by Tyler McCreary (2009). I assumed that my then comrades wrote, and reviewed, in good faith, and thus didn’t feel the need to actually investigate the whole tendency around Sakai and its related texts myself.
However, in the summer of 2010 I decided to leap full bore into Maoism, having had my interest in it slowly grown as a result of interactions with The Road/El Camino, and coming to find (post)Trotskyist theorizations and political offerings lacking. Not long into a Maoist comrade from Toronto affiliated with the Proletarian Revolutionary Action Committee, indirectly through a meta-review he had circulated of Lamb and McCreary’s writings, got me to read Sakai’s work, as well as Butch Lee’s text Night-Vision: Illuminating War and Class on the Neo-Colonial Terrain (2017). He had exposed to me McCreary and Lamb’s shoddy reviews. Looking back I would say that he was an early advocate of what would become the “Read Settlers” trend, but of course, like I think many who are now reproaching the text and its milieu, he accepted the text for its historiography but veered away from the implications for the present, leaning heavily on the notion that white workers can/will undergo a process of re-proletarianization (a thesis I would reject, and long have).
Nevertheless, I ordered the books and when I read them a lot of stuff clicked into place that I had been previously trying to make sense of. A lot of stuff had been nagging at me as I bounded around in prior years, and now that stuff had words. Sakai and others laid it all out for me, and all of a sudden so much stuff made sense. In many ways I would not even be where I am now politically without Sakai and the others. My politics were permanently shifted by them, even as I have now grown well beyond the bounds of them.
Because I accepted more fully the implications of Sakaiist thought, I also more or less immediately reversed the course I was on of becoming more involved with Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. As a result, I went off looking for more like-minded people. Again, I bounced around quite a bit for about three additional years. For a while, again as people who have been following me for the past twelve or thirteen years may recall, I entered into the orbit of the Uhuru Movement, its leader Omali Yeshitela, and its theory of African Internationalism. I latched onto them, because they presented themselves to me as an organized force that took up many of the concerns that Sakai had illuminated for me. I would come to learn a lot from them, but eventually I developed personal differences with their most highly ranked settler, Penny Hess, and again parted ways.
During that time though I also came to know members of the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement, and it was from them, though I never joined, that I would come to eventually, not long after departing the Uhuru Movement, start calling myself a Maoist (Third Worldist), aligned with the politics outlined in their document What is Maoism-Third Worldism (2012).
On Maoism-Third Worldism
And that I guess is where my answer really begins. But this also requires some illumination. And that is because I said I became a Maoist (Third Worldist) and not a Maoist-Third Worldist. That, I imagine, seems like quibbling to many, but from my experience in the milieu, however, the particular signifier—Maoism (Third Worldism) versus Maoism-Third Worldism—implies a particular theoretical and ideological orientation, or at least it did back in 2013. When I came into the milieu, particularly through my interactions with the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement in the U.S. and Canada, there was a debate going on about whether or not Maoism-Third Worldism represented a distinctly “new” stage of analysis over standard (post)Revolutionary Internationalist Movement variants of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, probably best recognized now in this context through the examples of organizations like the Revolutionary Communist Party in Canada and the Maoist Communist Party-Organizing Committee in the U.S.
Hence the hyphen. The idea that Maoism-Third Worldism was a new stage was a spectre of debates that came out of the genesis of Maoism-Third Worldism following the collapse of the original Maoist Internationalist Movement, an organization which had provided a lot of the inspiration for Maoism-Third Worldism. If I recall my history correctly (as I again, I came in well after the originary discussions) groups like the former Monkey Smashes Heaven etc. really pushed for the hyphenated form. Eventually Monkey Smashes Heaven, the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement, and others came together to form the Leading Light Communist Organization, and the logicial telos of that whole debate is the Leading Light’s current position that “leading light communism” (more than just Maoism-Third Worldism) is the “most advanced revolutionary science” in practice today. However, before I showed up on the scene the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement split with the Leading Light Communist Organization, largely over personality issues, and had again become an independent organization.
Part of that split was a revisiting of the ‘new stage’ conception, and eventually, around the time I came into the orbit of the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement, things has moved to talking about Maoism (Third Worldism), rather than Maoism-Third Worldism, with the brackets implying that it was not a new stage in Marxist thought, but rather was a move to place an emphasis upon what was viewed as the correct, anti-eurocentric, anti-revisionist current within Maoism. In hindsight it is kind of a middling conceptual term between Maoism-Third Worldism, and even leading light communism, on one end, and the Maoist Internationalist Movement, and offshoot/surviving cell the Maoist Internationalist Ministry of Prisons, on the other, with the latter being quite firmly in what we could recognize as the Third Worldist camp, but simply referring to their ideology as Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, and rejecting the need for any other hyphens, brackets, or suffixes. Maoism (Third Worldism) additionally appealed to me not only because I largely agreed with the politics, but generally have always had a problem with what an old (post)Maoist comrade of mine once called “layer-cake approaches” to revolutionary theory, and at the same time wanted to distinguish myself from a Maoist milieu in my region which is entirely dominated by Revolutionary Communist Party and the smaller Revolutionary Initiative, both of whom are groups I viewed, and still very much so view, as staunchly settlerist and First Worldist.
However, I as seems to be my political warrant in life, I have drifted significantly from those politics. I no longer consider myself a Maoist, and have not for some time, if I ever could have really been considered part of that camp truly to begin with. Looking back at that position paper from the comrades in the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement, I am not even entirely sure what is going on now. Originally as penned, it was rendered as the hyphenate form, then was changed to bracketed variation, reflecting the nature of the internal debates, only to now seemingly have been moved backwards to being rendered as the hyphenated form. I do not know if this now means that they once again believes they are at a ‘new stage.’
Reading it again for this social media answer come blog article, I still hold to certain obvious points, which I believe to be generally agreeable. For example women’s liberation, what they call “ecological congruence,” and the necessity of recognizing, analyzing, and considering the implications of imperialist parasitism.. However, even on that, I know that the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement has been under the influence for some time of a, frankly, white, settlerist, and First Worldist form of radical feminism, which does not reflect my own politics on the question of gender, its decolonization, and the suppression of non-western systems of gender that exceed the eurowestern binaries of man/woman.
Their suggested readings on their website reflects this, and indeed, probably most disturbingly, one of my final interactions with them before departing their company was during a Facebook discussion where several members mocked, and outright refused to even consider reading, important works by Black/African and Indigenous feminists because they wrote too “poetically” or the titles of their articles or books sounded like “poetry collections.” I basically said, to turn myself briefly into a meme, “ok, this is white as heck, so I am going to see you folks later.” For the comrades in the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement, in my opinion, this particular brand of feminist theory, and the manner in which they ended up gravitating towards it, especially combined with a refusal to engage Black and Indigenous feminism, was a way, intentional or not, of bringing back into their analysis, otherwise nominally committed to a kind of Third Worldism, a form of white First Worldist analysis.
What About Now?
I also still hold in quite explicit fashion to a form of Third Worldist international political economy. This is a political economy which centres the importance of imperial parasitism, especially as articulated by Zak Cope (2015; 2019) and John Smith (2016). As I have drifted into orbit around decolonial and Native theory it has largely come in the form of “decolonial world-systems analysis,” which is how the concept of decolonial analysis was first introduced to me by a good Islamic friend and comrade who I have come to know these past few years. Mignolo (2012), Quijano (2008), Grosfoguel (2013), Lugones (2008), Maldonado-Torres (2008), and many others speak of the “world-system” in way or another, largely because the Latin American articulation of decolonial theory owes its genesis in part, though certainly not exclusively, to interactions with world-systems analysis and dependency theory, especially through the work of the late Immanuel Wallerstein.
One of the things that comrades in the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement had helped introduce to me, as we tried to grapple with the questions of imperialism, the world-system, and parasitism was world-systems and dependency theory. At the suggestion of a comrade in that organization at the time I had picked up Wallerstein’s introductory text (2004), and through the suggested readings suggestion at the back also eventually came to read the likes of Samir Amin (2006; 2017), Giovanni Arrighi (1994), and Arghiri Emmanuel (1972). From there I had also explored world-systems related texts such as Li Minqi’s work on the rise of China as a capitalist power and its implications for the world-economy (2009). Thus, because Cope and Smith in particular root their own Third Worldist political economy in world-systems and dependency concepts, analytics, and terminology, and because of the role that those same analytics had placed in the emergence of decolonial thinking, nothing really changed for me in that regard. It was easy to marry a Copean-Smithian discussion of imperialist parastism with a decolonial one of the modern/colonial/capitalist world-system. The two compliment each other quite readily.
But returning to the original question that was posed to me regarding Maoism-Third Worldism, I bring up my current alignment with decolonial thinking not just to demonstrate how I moved away from that whole milieu, but also to raise another point, and that is that I think the Third Worldist critique, or rather the Maoist-Third Worldist critique (as I have also come to understand Third Worldism as a term that extends beyond Sakaiism and Maoism-Third Worldism), of eurocentrism to be insufficient. Like Robert Biel (2015), who both northern bloc Maoists and Maoist-Third Worldists seem to like, for the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement, for Maoist Internationalist Movement, and others, the question of eurocentrism is reduced to the question of political economy.
Of course mainstream Marxist political economy is eurocentric, and frankly attempts to argue against it, as in Charles Cope’s “critique” of the concept of the labour aristocracy or David Harvey’s statement that value-flows in the world-economy have shifted and now largely flow east, or numerous others end up being empirically laughable. However, this is not the only site of Marxist eurocentrism. I won’t belabour this point, because I have articulated it elsewhere several times now, and instead would encourage people to instead simply read my article from earlier this year entitled Marxism, Coloniality, “Man”, & Euromodern Science.
The main point embedded in that piece of writing though is that of the coloniality of power, understood as constitutive of, and thus inseparable from, modernity, and which can be broadly thought of as those pillars and interrelated spheres that define culture, labour, intersubjective relations knowledge production/epistemology, and ontological questions and concepts such as the nature of the human and the naturalization of life and the permanent regeneration of the living (e.g. the invention of the concept of “nature” etc.) well beyond the strict limits, spatially or temporally, of colonial administrations. I have come to believe this profoundly exceeds the narrow conceptions of both eurocentrism and anti-eurocentrism expressed within the broad Marxist movement, which, I guess as should be expected, remain largely Lockean, therefor labour, centric in their conceptions.
Additionally, the extent to which I remain a Marxist, my differences with Maoism-Third Worldism have only grown as I have explored a number of other theoretical spaces and political realms of thought. For example, I now largely align with latter-day communist currents, and the debates therein, and not all of which explicitly consider themselves Marxist, which may generally be labelled as ultra-left, including but not limited to contemporary communization, postautonomia, and certain variants of postmaoism. Within that, I have become incredibly interested in contemporary articulations of the value-form theory by theorists like Chris Arthur (2002), Moishe Postone (2005), Patrick Murray (2018), and Tony Smith (2009), who draw from the heterdox Soviet economist Isaak Illich Rubin (1973), and which can be understood as the perspective that it is the development of the forms of exchange that are the prime determinant of the capitalist economy rather than the content regulated by it, and in which capitalism is understood as a method of regulating labor by giving it the social form of an exchangeable commodity, and not a disguised or mystified system that is otherwise similar in content to other class-based societies
Contradictorily, I say because the “systematic dialectics” of the value-form theory tendency tends towards a deep appreciation for Hegel’s influence on Marx in their reading of Capital, I also have gotten closer to the late-Althusser’s positing of a “materialism of the encounter” (2006). This is an anti-teleological and multimodal materialist analysis of relationships of power, in which the emergence of phenomenon such as settler colonialism, modernity/coloniality, and capitalism arise contingently, rather than as fated, destined outcomes of earlier social phases of human history, traced along universal and unilinear evolutionary mappings, and in which change, movement, revolution, and emergence are not reducible to a single set of dialectical contradictions. Perhaps even more contradictorily, I have also grown in appreciation for the early-Baudrillard’s critical semiotics influenced extension of the Marxist theory of value, which builds on Marx’s own dialectic between use and exchange-value, through the addition of sign-value and symbolic-value (2006; 2016; 2019).
In particular my tendency towards contemporary communization and value-form theory articulations has also, combined with personal experiences over the past year, seen my final break with any kind of Leninism as a desirable organization practice, and a deep suspicion of the party-state form of post-revolutionary society that has been the historical modus operandi of Marxist-Leninist and Maoist formations, and which, in my assessment, have ended either in disaster, collapse, or the open revitalization of private capitalism. I have no come to see that internally, after “the revolution” in those countries which were considered “world-historic,” as well as those not defined as such, which defeated bourgeoisie and seized the means production, workers have remained workers, producing in separate state-owned enterprises, dependent on their relation to that workplace for their subsistence, and exchanging with other state-owned enterprises. Whether that exchange is mediated by some form of Leninist party-state governing in the name of the workers ultimately means very little. This is because the essence of the capitalist economic form remains in place.
Externally, after the revolution, those countries also remained fundamentally attached to the capitalist world-system. As such they continued to be bound to the basic laws of motion, that is, the law of value, of the capitalist world-economy. They were not an “outside” of the capitalist world-system taken as a totality and not just as some raw-sum of individual national economies. Taken together, these two points offer a critique of not just the Leninist party-state form of socialism, but also the ideas of anarcho-syndicalism, anarchist communism, and council communism. This is because even if exchange, and all that, is self-organized by the workers, the persistence of these forms renders a continuance of the essence of capitalism.
Also, as my appreciation for Baudrillard might imply, I am also do not utterly recoil at the thought of postmodernism or poststructualism the way that both Maoists and Maoist-Third Worldists do, more often than not do. Rather, my approach to the postmodern is mediated much more by theorists like Fredric Jameson (1991) and the late Mark Fisher (2009), than by say Siraj’s Post-Modernism Today: A Brief Introduction (2003), which both Maoists and Maoist-Third Worldists circulate. All of this though—the communization, the poststructuralism etc.—are properly prioritized and subordinated to decolonial, Native and abolitionist concerns and theorizations.
For example, against even Sakaiist thinking on settler colonialism, which tends to historicize the issue, I hold that settler colonialism should be thought of as a distinct modality of power, which functions, as described by Patrick Wolfe (2006), under a logic of elimination towards the annihilation of Natives peoples, and their replacement by a settler population, rather than Lockean notions of labour exploitation. Centrally important is how this continues today as a structure, rather than an onto-historical event, and how it mobilizes a multimodal array of, at times, seemingly contradictory forms of State and civil society policy and practice under its broad programme of anti-Native violence, including the biogenic and cultural extensions of frontier homicide.
Indeed, to have something of an aside, this is the source of much criticism from myself towards the specifically Sakaiist tendency within Third Worldism, and how it is has influenced others more broadly. Essentially, contrary to how I think Sakai’s work is being reproached by a left that once would have piled up copies of it and burned them, I do not believe that Sakai, Lee or anyone else associated with that tendency actually theorize settler colonialism as settler colonialism, despite the word settlers being in the title of the principal work. By this I mean it is not a theorizing of settler colonialism as I think many of us now understand it, which is of the phenomenon as described above. I think Sakai, Lee and the others actually make the mistake that Patrick Wolfe pointed out, which I alluded to above, which to treat invasion as an event, not a structure, even as they give a treatment of the ideology of settlerism. Because of this Natives, Native genocide, and Native dispossession actually quite rapidly fade as one progresses through the pages of the text. Natives are treated, even if unintentionally, as something in the past and I think that is a major hole in the work. I am not the only Native who has read the text and strongly received this impression.
However, I believe that an analysis of settler colonialism is actually what people associated with the “Read Settlers” tendency are looking for when they both read Settlers and when they advocate that others do so as well. But as I said, I do not think it does that, and I do not think most others informed by contemporary theorizations of settler colonialism think it does so either. Rather, I think, following David Roediger (if I recall correctly), the book is a critical labour history of the white working-class. Taken that way the work is an excellent and it is indispensable. I certainly hold it in a much higher regards than Ignatiev’s thinking on “white skin privilege,” Theodore W. Allen’s work on “the invention of the white race,” or Karen and Barbara J. Fields study of “racecraft.”
Related to that all of that, I also hold to notions of decolonization and decoloniality that exceed most Marxist paradigms, where the former of which relates to the question of land and power, as Native oppression and resistance to that oppression is informed by, and through, the question of land, while the latter, though inherently tied to the materiality of decolonization, is a critique from the position of subalternized and silenced knowledges of modernity/coloniality, rather than from Marxism or postmodernism’s eurocentric critique of euromodernity. Additionally, decoloniality is a critique of universality and abstract universals, as pursued by Badiou, as fundamentally epistemically western and colonial, and the basis of what Mignolo critiques as “global designs.”
I also have become deeply inflenced by Black feminist, decolonial, and Native theories of the human as the theological, and later secular and scientific, subject of western, liberal-bourgeois humanism in the form of Man. I take up thinking related to how the onto-structural ordering of Man necessarily stratifies the biological species of Homo sapiens into full humans (Man), not-quite-humans and nonhumans, and how the latter categories designate capacity to be exposed to structural and physical violence, as well as how it inscribes and reinscribes euro-western and euromodern ontologies that institute binaries and boundaries between the human and our other-than-human kin. Finally, I understand the necessary for abolition of Man through decolonial struggle and the creation of counterhumanisms and the new forms of being human.
Thus, I were to begin to come to something of a conclusion to this, I would say that in many ways I deeply appreciate Maoism-Third Worldism. It helped to introduce me to many concepts, even if indirectly, that I still deploy in my thinking now, such as the categories of analysis of the world-system. Maoism-Third Worldism also helped me to shake off any last vestiges of my old politics. However, since then my politics have continued to evolve significantly. While I have no personal dislike for any of the Maoist-Third Worldist comrades I came to closely know, despite sometimes profound political and theoretical differences, especially towards the end, I have come to see their politics as deeply flawed, and I no longer hold any faith in their thinking about revolution or communism. Thus it would be impossible (well perhaps not impossible: let us say “extremely unlikely) that I could ever find my way back to that sort of politcs. As my political thinking has continued to grow and evolve my thoughts regarding the party, the State, and the party-state are now such that indeed it would be difficult for me to become involved in any kind of Leninist organizing. We simply differ far too much now.
Another concerning matter with Maoism-Third Worldism is that it, just like the eurocentric sand First Worldist Marxists whose mistakes it seeks to correct, I have never seen evidence that they are any closer to solving the riddle of how to actualize revolution in this society. Again, in that regard, I have come to find much more interest in communization theory, in particular that associated with the Endnotes Journal.
However, saying all of that, I am still grateful for what my Maoist-Third Worldist comrades gave me, what I learned from them, and I do not look back on my times with them harshly.
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