Book Review: Maoism vs. Libertarian Socialism? by Elliot Liu

Choi Chi-yuk

Review of Elliot Liu's book examining Mao's Communist regime (and Stalin's Soviet Union) in relation to Lib-Soc ethic

Infoshop News - August 2019

"The book covers Mao’s theoretical writings, such as his discussion of dialectical
philosophy. It looks at Mao’s “contributions” but criticizes his perspective as Stalinist
and bourgeois. Frankly, I think that Liu takes Maoist theory a bit too seriously, as
though it were a real part of the development of philosophy. Whatever may be the strengths
or weaknesses of Hegel, Marx, and Engels in using dialectics, for Stalin and then Mao it
was no longer real philosophical discourse. “Dialectical materialism,” in the hands of the
Stalinists, had become simply what Marx called “ideology”-not a system of ideas but
rationalization to cover up class reality. It can be analyzed as ideology in this sense
and Liu is best when he does that."

This small book is about the ideology of Maoism and its development out
of the Chinese Revolution. As the author says, that revolution shook the world. The world
is living with its aftermath today. And it is possible, as there is a regrowth of U.S.
radicalism, that Maoism may have an influence on a revived U.S. Left. So it is important
to understand Mao’s legacy.

Most works on this topic are either academic (and implicitly pro-capitalist) or pro-Maoist (or sometimes Trotskyist). Unusually, Elliot Liu claims to “offer a critical analysis of the Chinese Revolution and Maoist politics from an anarchist and communist perspective.” (2)

It may not be entirely clear what that means,. The term “communist” includes everything
from anarchist-communism (the mainstream of anarchism since Kropotkin) to Pol Pot’s
auto-genocide. However Liu writes that he is “in line with many anarchist and anti-state
communist critics of Marxism-Leninism….” (105) He is identifying with the libertarian,
autonomist, humanist, and “ultra-left” trends in Marxism-in opposition to mainstream
social-democratic or Leninist versions of Marxism.

This is demonstrated by the theorists he cites and the theories he uses-which he
integrates with anarchism. Liu never quite spells this out, but rather demonstrates it in
the course of the book. I am in general agreement with this anarchist/libertarian-Marxist
approach-often summarized as “libertarian socialism.” (See Price 2017.) This makes me
especially interested in how he applies it, which is sometimes problematic.

While presented as an “introduction” to Maoism, this book covers a great deal of material.
The conclusions Liu reaches are these: “The Chinese Revolution was a remarkably popular
peasant war led by Marxist-Leninists….The Chinese Communist Party acted as a surrogate
bourgeoisie, developing the economy in a manner that could be called ‘state
capitalist’….[This]transformed the party into a new ruling class, with interests
distinct from those of the Chinese proletariat and peasantry….Mao and his allies
repeatedly chose…beating back the revolutionary self-activity of the Chinese proletariat
and ultimately clearing the way for openly capitalist rule after Mao’s death….I consider
Maoism to be an internal critique of Stalinism that fails to break with Stalinism.” (2-3)

In places, Liu refers to Maoist China as “state socialist” without explaining what this
means. Perhaps he means that the regime calls itself “socialist” due to its
nationalization of industry, even though it is really not socialist but state capitalist.
I agree with a “state capitalist” analysis of Maoism and the Chinese state Mao built. (For
“state capitalist” theory as developed in the analysis of the Soviet Union, see Daum 1990;
Hobson & Tabor 1988.) Liu supports his “state capitalist” view in several ways: by
examining the history of Maoism, by considering its theory, and by a political-economic
analysis of the Chinese economy. ...
Read full review at Infoshop News

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