The Story of *Continuity and Rupture*
[The following is a short promotional article for my recent book. Rather than simply summarize the book, which you can find on the publisher’s website, I have chosen to explain the book’s narrative setting in order to make it sound intriguing. I promise that, if you know even a little about left history and have activist experience, you’ll find the book enjoyable.]
I would like to think of Continuity and Rupture as similar to a novel that takes place within a particular time frame informed by a complex fictional history discovered in the narrative present — a present which is a rupture from, but also in continuity with, this past. In these kinds of stories the past struggles are incomplete and it is up to the characters enmeshed in the present narrative frame to resolve the historical problematic in new ways that cannot help but be informed by the past. An example that springs to mind is Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s evocative story Under She Who Devours Suns where the protagonist returns to the city from which she was exiled to reengage a friend-nemesis who she failed to defeat in a duel only to discover that this character is dead. Her failure can only be overturned by resurrecting a history that “bloom[s] out of the marble ground, ghost aggregates splitting into razor limbs and limpid eyes, the phantoms of battlefields past,” rearticulating it so that the means to success require a completely different sequence.[i] But the present frame in this story is only possible because of the scaffolding of the past.
The story told by Continuity and Rupture concerns the gap between the anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninist experience of the 1970s/80s, or the New Communist Movement [NCM], and the declaration of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism that was wagered by the People’s War in Peru and the now defunct Revolutionary International Movement [RIM] in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This story’s wager is that the “Maoism” proclaimed by the NCM was merely an anti-revisionist Marxism-Leninism with the added qualifier of “Mao Zedong Thought” — a fidelity to the Chinese Revolution, particularly its Cultural Revolution, led by Mao Zedong — whereas the Maoism proclaimed by the Communist Party of Peru [PCP] and the RIM, right at the moment that capitalism was declaring itself the End of History, is what we can properly call Maoism: Marxism-Leninism-Maoism or, as I sometimes call it for philosophical reasons, Maoism-qua-Maoism. My entire book is premised upon this wager, upon forcing the Maoist decision and excavating its philosophical meaning.
Instead of summarizing the entirety of Continuity and Rupture in this short article, though, I will examine a particular aspect of its narrative conceit’s scaffolding, namely the backdrop of the NCM and why it is significant as a series of experiences that would contribute to the ruptural event of Maoism-qua-Maoism. The NCM was a globally variated experience that at times coded itself as “Maoist” even if, as I point out in Continuity and Rupture, it saw itself as mainly and properly Marxist-Leninist with “Mao Zedong Thought” as a guiding principle against the revisionism represented by the Khrushchevite turn in the Soviet Union. Maoism in this context was not on par with “Marxism” or “Leninism” but rather a guiding thought designed to encourage communists to defend Marxism-Leninism against revisionism.
Here it is worth pointing out that the NCM was indeed a global phenomenon and not simply a bunch of ML sects in the first world attempting to solve the dilemma of the New Left by finding a curative in post-1968 revolutionary China. Since I discuss this global dimension in some detail in Continuity and Rupture I won’t repeat myself in this short article.
Rather I want to narrow the focus on the NCM to its articulation in the first world. Not to privilege its first world expression but to: i) focus on the social context where I work and organize with fellow comrades; ii) trouble a certain narrative about anti-capitalist organization in the centres of global capitalism. This narrative not only begins by ignoring the existence of communist resistance outside of the imperial metropoles, by assuming that there was and is no such thing and that the experience of the first world working class is universal, but also is motivated by the assumption that in the first world there was a period of “New Left” agitation (the 1968 rebellions, and maybe the Black Panther Party, the Weather Underground, the Red Army Faction, the American Indian Movement, and George Jackson Brigade are grudgingly recognized) and then there was widespread organizational collapse until the neo-anarchist/movementist re-initiation of struggle in the mid-1990s.
The narrative that deletes or downplays the NCM is so hegemonic that even otherwise excellent leftist analyses accept the historiography. Take, for example, Jerome Klassen’s masterful work about Canadian Imperialism: in a couple paragraphs about the 1980s, where he recognizes large scale working-class resistance to Canadian capitalism, he demonstrates a lack of knowledge regarding the Canadian NCM’s investment in mass mobilizing in this context — the Worker’s Communist Party, En Lutte, and others.[ii] And as I argue in Continuity and Rupture there is much evidence to support the claim that the NCM within the imperialist metropoles was indeed significant.
Our counter-narrative of the NCM is incomplete, though, if we do not also recognize the anarchist critique that emerged during its dissolution, specifically in the US, which contributed to the embrace of movementism typified by the anti-globalization movement. Here I am thinking about the Love & Rage Network/Revolutionary Anarchist Federation that emerged in the late 1980s — in the US, Canada, and Mexico — in response to the dissolution of the NCM. This was an organization that, despite its purist anarchist detractors, attempted to build something sustainable, tried to think of what revolutionary cadre would be even within an ostensibly “anarchist” collective. With their participation in anti-fascist organizing and support of the Zapatistas this network would contribute to the organizational structures behind the eventual anti-globalization movement. At the same time, however, they would encounter the questions raised but left unanswered by the NCM that partially generated the conditions of Love & Rage’s emergence: the nature of contemporary capitalism, the problematic of strategy and tactics, the meaning of class struggle in the context of other sites of oppression, and above all the necessity of a disciplined cadre organization. When Love & Rage finally dissolved under the weight of contradictions between the desire for anarchism and the need for long term disciplined organization, some of its key ideologues/organizers (Chris Day, for example, whose 1996 intervention regarding the limitations of anarchism precipitated the dissolution of Love & Rage) would end up gravitating towards a Maoist sensibility that had only recently been articulated by the PCP.
There is of course much to write about the NCM counter-narrative I’ve outlined, and there are some good historiographies and memoirs that shed some light on this period,[iii] but again my point here is simply to indicate the narrative scaffolding of Continuity and Rupture, i.e. the story setting within which it takes place. That is, the main conceit of Continuity and Rupture, that Maoism did not exist as Maoism until 1988, is one that relies on the narrative context of the pre-Maoism of the NCM that failed to actually be this theoretical terrain, that only ever saw itself as an anti-revisionist Marxism-Leninism, but in this failure to actually be the Maoism it was often called provided the narrative past of failed accomplishment that would feed into the theoretical rearticulation defined by the sequence of 1988–1993 that I define as Maoism-qua-Maoism (Maoism properly qualified as Maoism) in my book. Unfortunately I tell this story with less elegance than fictions such as those written by Sriduangkaew, but info-dumps are more forgivable in non-fiction. And I hope that by telling the story of the contemporary Maoist wager I have also done some honour to its narrative past — where “prophetic” glimmers of its emergence can be discovered but only in retrospect — because this is a past that is often dismissed by a contemporary activism that imagines itself unbound from history and, in this imagining, cannot help but be haunted by all of the past mistakes and failures.
[i] Benjanun Sriduangkaew, Under She Who Devours Suns. In Beneath Ceaseless Skies 204 (July 2016).
[ii] Jerome Klassen, Joining Empire: The Political Economy of the New Canadian Foreign Policy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014), 102. I want to emphasize, though, that I am simply pointing out Klassen’s oversight regarding the NCM. In general, Joining Empire is probably the most academically rigorous and conclusive argument for the existence of Canadian Imperialism. Indeed, it is very difficult for me to see how anyone who has bothered to read this book can still claim that Canada is not an imperialist power.
[iii] See, for example, Max Elbaum’s Revolution In The Air, Aaron Leonard and Conor Gallagher’s Heavy Radicals, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s Outlaw Woman, Ed Mead’s Lumpen.