Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Nelson Peery for the Communist League Secretariat

N. Sanmugathasan’s Bright Red Banner


First Published: Proletariat, [theoretical journal of the Communist League, [U.S.A.]] Vol. 2, No. 1, Winter 1972.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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During the past two years, there has developed a new ideological position within the ranks of the Marxist-Leninist groupings opposed to Soviet revisionism, supporting Mao Tsetung, and especially supporting the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China. This new position has a marked anti-Stalin orientation, in many areas openly supports Trotsky, and in general (this is the essence) claims that social motion, and especially, revolution, is the result of man’s consciousness to the exclusion of his social being. In the main the ideological manifesto of the position of these new groupings is a pamphlet by N. Sanmugathasan, General Secretary of the Communist party of Ceylon, entitled The Bright Red Banner of Mao Tsetung Thought, published by the Ceylon CP in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the people’s Republic of China. (Workers Press, 121 Union Place, Colombo-2, Ceylon.)

At first glance, this pamphlet would appear to be simply an overly individualized salute to the historic stature of Mao Tsetung. A closer examination of it will show that there is a real reason for it. I believe that this reason is to separate Mao from Marxism-Leninism, make him an object of the cult of the personality aside and apart from the practical political struggle of the day. Most of all, the reason is to place the subjective factor of the revolutionary movement (ideas) in the position of being the leading factor, more important than the developing productive forces in society. Let us examine the statement.

On p. 2 Sanmugathasan says, “Lenin applied the teachings of Marxism to the changed conditions of his own time. In doing so he developed Marxism to the higher stage of Leninism.”

This seems like an innocent statement which corresponds to the facts – until you compare it to what is accepted by Mao Tsetung and the Chinese Communist Party, by Stalin and by revolutionaries everywhere. What is Leninism? It’s not Marxism which has been elevated to a different level. Leninism, as Stalin says (Foundations of Leninism, Peking, p. l0), “is Marxism in the era of imperialism and of the proletarian revolution. To be more exact, Leninism is the theory and tactics of the proletarian revolution in general, the theory and tactics of the dictatorship of the proletariat in particular. Marx and Engels pursued their activities in the prerevolutionary period, when developed imperialism did not exist, in the period of the proletarian preparation for revolution, in the period when the proletarian revolution was not yet a direct practical inevitability. Lenin, however, as a disciple of Marx and Engels, and pursued his activities in the period of developed imperialism, in the period of the unfolding proletarian revolution, when the proletarian revolution had already captured one country, had smashed bourgeois democracy and had ushered in the era of proletarian democracy, the era of the Soviets.”

We can see that this accepted formulation of the question of Leninism is a bit different from what is proposed by Sanmugathasan. He says that Lenin developed Marxism into something that was different, a “higher stage”, that it was no longer Marxism, but Leninism. But Lenin did not rearrange the base of Marxism in any way. He applied Marxism to the tasks of our day, that is, the tasks of the proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat. To follow Sanmugathasan’s description would be to say that Marxism is a set of dogma applicable for one circumstance but not. for another. In the Communist League, we see Marxism, as a system, applicable to all phenomena, theoretical and practical.

Again, on p. 3, Sanmugathasan repeats his assertion in different words, saying that Lenin “raised Marxism to new heights and, hence, Marxism began to be referred to as Marxism-Leninism.” It may seem that we are being nitpicking to belabor what seems to be a small point. But as Marx points out, “The body as an organic whole is more easy of study than are the cells of that body.” And, “To the superficial observer the analysis of these forms seems to turn upon minutiae.” (Capital, FLPH, Moscow, 1961, p. 8). We should also recall Lenin’s well-known discussion of the crucial importance of “shades” of differences in What is To Be Done?. For if we follow this “small” point, this “shade” of Sanmugathasan’s, namely that Leninism is different and separate from Marxism, then his whole thesis that Mao is also separate from Marx logically follows.

So much for Sanmugathasan’s first main thesis. A second is stated on p. 3, where he says, “Stalin continued Lenin’s tasks and, despite some mistakes, he did a good job in building socialism in one country,” etc. Here we come across the allusion to “some mistakes” of Stalin, which are so often left unconcretized. Of course this vagueness and unwillingness to nail down questions of importance are the touchstone of every opportunist. At least the Chinese revisionists, who were crushed by the proletarian Cultural Revolution, were frank in their statements. For example:

During the latter part of his life, Stalin took more and more pleasure in this cult of the individual, and violated the party’s system of Democratic Centralism and the principle of combining collective leadership with individual responsibility. As a result he made some serious mistakes such as the following: he broadened the scope of the suppression of the counter-revolution; he lacked the necessary vigilance on the eve of the anti-fascist war; he failed to pay proper attention to the peasantry; he gave certain wrong advice on the international communist movement, and in particular made a wrong decision on the question of Yugoslavia. On these issues, Stalin fell victim of subjectivity and one-sidedness, and divorced himself from objective reality and from the masses. (Historical Experience of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, Peking 1961, pp. 8-9.)

The Chinese revisionists say later, “The CPC congratulates the CPSU on its great achievements in its historic struggle against the cult of the individual.” (Ibid., p. ll.)

Of course, we do not have to belabor the point. The CPSU’s “great achievements” in correcting Stalin’s “mistakes” led to the restoration of capitalist imperialism in the Soviet Union by the Krushchov gang, with disastrous effects for the Russian people and the international communist movement. Mao Tsetung and the Marxist-Leninists of the CPC have other ideas about Stalin. Mao said on the latter’s 60th birthday, “Stalin is the leader of the world revolution. This is of paramount importance. It is a great event that mankind is blessed with Stalin. Since we have him, things can go well. As you all know, Marx is dead and so are Engels and Lenin. Had there been no Stalin, who would there be to give directions?

But having him – this is really a blessing. Now there exists in the world a Soviet Union, a Communist party and also a Stalin. Thus the affairs of the world can go well.” Further, Mao says, “We must hail him, we must support him and we must learn from him.” “We must learn from him in two respects: his theory and his work.”

We would add only that Mao Tsetung made these remarks in 1939, after the Moscow Trials and the mass purges of counter-revolutionaries in the Soviet Union by Stalin. Then, too, various revisionists, Trotskyites and other scum in China were attacking Stalin and whining about his “broadening the scope of the suppression of the counter-revolution,” etc. Mao Tsetung answered them just as we answer them now.

Mao and his teachings on Stalin live on while those who have attacked Stalin under the cloak of lies and vagueness have been crushed, and will continue to be crushed, by the masses. Life itself has now shown us that it is impossible to attack Stalin the individual. Such attacks have, no meaning for communists. On the other hand, those who attack Stalin the political figure cannot help but attack the proletarian revolution and especially the dictatorship of the proletariat, and in fact use attacks on Stalin as a cover for attacking the proletarian revolution. Of course, we see this in hindsight. It was the Krushchov gang, both hidden and open, that first saw clearly that the path to attacking the dictatorship of the proletariat and restoring capitalism was to attack Stalin because they saw it first. We, in a sense, have been forced on the defensive on the question of Stalin. But since we now know from Soviet and world experience the meaning of the attacks on Stalin, we will not let such attacks go unanswered, no matter how slight. (We know from our own experience that such attacks always start out in the form of ten sentences of praise plus one of blame, and then invariably transform themselves into one sentence of praise plus ten of blame, and finally to eleven sentences of blame.)[1]

Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao have consistently taught that the difference between Marxists and bourgeois socialists is the demand for the dictatorship of the proletariat. Today, this demand is concretely translated into the defense of the great historical contributions of Stalin. Why? Because the USSR was the first country of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and. Stalin was its leader for over thirty years.

To continue. The grouping developing around Sanmugathasan has as one of its main projections that Lenin and Stalin did not understand the continuation of the class struggle after the military victory of the revolution. Sanmugathasan says on p. 4, “With unerring farsightedness, Comrade Mao Tsetung pointed out that classes would continue to exist during the entire historical epoch from socialism to communism and that, therefore, class struggle would continue to exist even after the socialist revolution.” (Emphasis added)

The first question that should come to mind in examining this is, “If class struggles don’t exist after the proletarian revolution (that is, the military victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie), why have the dictatorship of the proletariat at all?” After all, you cannot have the dictatorship of the proletariat without having defeated the bourgeoisie in the military field and having smashed their state. But after you have done so? There’s only one possible conclusion, and that is that the dictatorship of the proletariat itself is the full recognition of the continuation of the class struggle in other than military forms. Marx points out in the Communist Manifesto:

We have seen above, that the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to establish democracy.

The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class; and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.

When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose it political character. Political power properly so called, is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another. (Communist Manifesto, International Publishers, 1948, pp. 30-31.)

On p. 47 of the Foundations of Leninism, in the section entitled “Dictatorship of the proletariat”, Stalin says,

The revolution can defeat the bourgeoisie, can overthrow its power, even without the dictatorship of the proletariat. But the revolution will be unable to crush the resistance of the bourgeoisie, to maintain its victory and to push forward to the final victory of socialism unless, at a certain stage in its development, it creates a special organ in the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat as its principal mainstay. From Lenin the quote, ’The fundamental question of every revolution is the question of power.’ Does this mean that all that is required is to assume power, to seize it? No, it does not. The seizure of power is only the beginning. For many reasons, the bourgeoisie that is overthrown in one country remains for a long time (WE EMPHASIZE “FOR A LONG TIME”) stronger than the proletariat which has overthrown it. Therefore, the whole point is to retain power, to consolidate it, to make it invincible. What is needed to attain this? To attain this it is necessary to carry out at least three main tasks that confront the dictatorship of the proletariat ’on the morrow’ of victory.

Further, on p. 48 Stalin quotes Lenin as follows:

The transition from capitalism to communism represents an entire historical epoch. Until this epoch has terminated, the exploiters inevitably cherish the hope of restoration, and this hope is converted into attempts at restoration. And after their first serious defeat, the overthrown exploiters – who had not expected their overthrow, never believed it possible, never conceded the thought of it – throw themselves with energy grown tenfold, with furious passion and hatred grown a hundredfold, into the battle for the recovery of the ’paradise’ of which they have been deprived, on behalf of their families, who had been leading such a sweet and easy life and whom now the ’common herd’ is condemning to ruin and destitution (or to ’common labor’). In the train of the capitalist exploiters follows the broad masses of the petty bourgeoisie, with regard to whom decades of historical experience testify that they vacillate and hesitate, one day marching behind the proletariat and the next day taking fright at the difficulties of the revolution? that they become panic-stricken at the first defeat or semi-defeat of the workers, grow nervous, rush about, snivel, and run from one camp into the other.

Further, Lenin says (Selected Works, Vol. VII, p. 140), “If the exploiters are defeated in one country only, and this of course is typical since the simultaneous revolution in a number of countries is a rare exception, they will still remain stronger than the exploited.”

No one can deny that Marx understood the existence of class struggle after the proletariat has beaten the bourgeoisie, since you don’t have to ’wrest’ wealth from a dead man. Lenin applied this concept to the conditions of the Soviet revolution as did Mao to the Chinese revolution. But Sanmugathasan has another, essentially counter-revolutionary view of the dictatorship of the proletariat under Lenin and Stalin. He supports it by saying,

But where he (Stalin) failed was in not recognizing, on the level of theory, that classes and class struggle exist in society throughout the historical period of the dictatorship of the proletariat and that the question of who will win in the revolution has yet to be finally settled; in other words, if all this is not handled properly there is the possibility of a comeback by the bourgeoisie. The year before he died, Stalin became aware of this point and stated that contradictions do exist in socialist society and if not handled properly might turn into antagonistic ones. (P. 52)

Of course this is sheer duplicity. Either Stalin did understand the situation or he didn’t. At the beginning of the paragraph he didn’t and then at the end of the paragraph it’s admitted that he did, since it is printed for all to see. (See Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR)

But Sanmugathasan keeps repeating his assertion, as if saying it enough will make it so. On p. 25 he says,

One of the specific contributions of Comrade Mao Tsetung to the treasure-house of Marxism-Leninism is his summing up of the experiences of the revolutions in China and other countries and his conclusions that classes and class struggles exist throughout the entire historical epoch from socialism to communism, and that there existed the danger of capitalist restoration and the danger of the dictatorship of the proletariat being lost and subverted.

First of all, the epoch is from capitalism to communism – socialism is the name of that epoch. Secondly, we have shown by quotations that Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin had a pretty clear idea of this, and that is why they refer to this epoch of transition as the dictatorship of the proletariat. Let us quote Lenin once more:

Under the Soviet power, your proletarian party and ours will be invaded by a still larger number of bourgeois intellectuals. They will worm their way into the Soviets, the courts, and the administration, for communism cannot be built up otherwise than with the aid of the human material created by capitalism,, and the bourgeois intellectuals cannot be expelled and destroyed, but must be vanquished, remolded, assimilated and re-educated, just as one must – in a protracted struggle waged on the basis of the dictatorship of the proletariat – re-educate the proletarians themselves, who do not abandon their petty-bourgeois prejudices at one stroke, by a miracle, at the behest of the Virgin Mary, at the behest of a slogan, resolution or decree, but only in the course of a long and difficult mass struggle against mass petty-bourgeois influences. Under the Soviet power the same problems, which the anti-parliamentarians are now so proudly, so lightly and so childishly brushing aside with a wave of the hand – these very same problems are arising anew within the Soviets, within the Soviet administration, among the Soviet ’attorneys’ (in Russia we have abolished, and have rightly abolished, the bourgeois legal Bar, but it is being revived in the. guise of ’Soviet attorneys’). Among the Soviet engineers, the Soviet school teachers and the privileged, i.e., the most highly skilled and best situated workers in the Soviet factories, we observe a constant revival of absolutely all the bad traits peculiar to bourgeois parliamentarism, and we shall gradually conquer this evil only by constant, tireless, prolonged and persistent struggle, proletarian organization and discipline. (’Left-wing’ Communism, an Infantile Disorder, Int. Pub, 1940, pp. 92-3)

This is clear enough and that should be the end of that. But Sanmugathasan goes back for another try at Stalin. He writes,

But what was his shortcoming? After 1928, when the problem of the kulaks had been solved, when collectivization of agriculture was completed, when the first Five-Year Flan was completed, he said classes had been entirely eliminated and no longer existed. This incorrect idea was clearly expressed in his report on the Soviet Constitution in 1936. (P. 58)

What did Stalin really say? From ’The Report on the Constitution’:

In conformity with these changes in the economic life of the USSR, the class structure of our society has also changed.

The landlord class, as you know, had already been eliminated as a result of the victorious conclusion of the civil war. As for the other exploiting classes, they have shared the fate of the landlord class. The capitalist class in the sphere of industry has ceased to exist. Thus all the exploiting classes have been eliminated. (Problems of Leninism, FLPH, Moscow, 1954, p. 683)

No one will deny that the victory of socialism was marked by the adoption of the Constitution, made possible by the elimination of economic classes (except for the proletariat and peasantry), a task completed by 1936. If you confuse the statement about ’eliminating classes’ you take the position of the fascists, who accuse the Soviet Union and Stalin of meaning that eliminating the kulaks as a class means eliminating all the kulaks. But this was not what was meant at all. Kulaks as kulaks and capitalists as capitalists were eliminated, and the Constitution was therefore adopted. But did the elimination of the exploiting classes as classes mean that there were no more enemies of the Soviet power in the Soviet Union? This is ridiculous as, among other things, the Purge Trials of 1936-8 pointed out, and as Stalin pointed out ’in the realm of theory’ in Mastering Bolshevism, 1937.

But enough on this point. He suggest to our comrades and to those friends who still have questions on this score to avail themselves of Stalin’s works and study them.

* * *

Assuming that everyone is overwhelmed by his arguments, Sanmugathasan leaps from the contention that Mao discovered class struggle under socialism to the contention that Mao discovered that dialectics operate within the Communist party. Of course this is pure foolishness. Lenin dealt in great detail with the bases of contradictions within the party in his ’Struggle Against Revisionism.’ Stalin says in ’Inherent Contradictions of Party Development’ (the title alone discredits Sanmugathasan), “The whole history of our Party is the history of overcoming internal Party differences and the steady consolidation of the ranks of our Party on the basis of overcoming these contradictions....It follows that the fight to overcome internal party differences is the law of development of our Party.” (Int. Pub, 1946, p. 47) Sanmugathasan is simply not telling the truth when he says that internal party struggle was discovered by Mao Tsetung.

Similarly, Sanmugathasan says on p43: “Comrade Mao Tsetung solved these questions of art and literature with the aid of Marxist dialectics.”

The way this is said leaves one to believe that Stalin’s important works, that Andrey Zhdanov’s important writings on art and literature, don’t exist; that the brilliant essays by Marx and Engels entitled ’Literature and Art’ were never published. They are totally disregarded.

It’s clear from the examples we have given that time after time Sanmugathasan attributes to Mao Tsetung theories that were developed and elaborated by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin as well as by Mao himself. By pointing this out do we mean to diminish the stature of Mao? On the contrary. For us Mao’s greatness lies, in the way he applied Marxism-Leninism to the concrete conditions of Chinese society; it lies in the fact that he is the undisputed leader in the worldwide struggle to make Marxism once more a realistic, living revolutionary theory and practice. His greatness does not lie for us (as it does for Sanmugathasan) in his having invented abstractions of Marxism.

It is Sanmugathasan, not we, who does a disservice to Mao Tsetung and to Marxism-Leninism in general by developing a cult of personality, by separating Mao Tsetung from Lenin and Leninism, from Marx and Stalin; and even worse, by separating him from the realities of social life and social struggle. To illustrate this once more let us examine Sanmugathasan’s treatment of Mao and the Great proletarian Cultural Revolution.

According to Sanmugathasan, Mao Tsetung personally initiated and led the Cultural Revolution. Now, it’s a fact that Mao did initiate and lead the Cultural Revolution – but not as some abstraction. His leadership, and the Cultural Revolution itself, were part of the general revolutionizing of the means of production of China, the winning of the battle for production, the development of production, without which socialism and the development of communism are impossible. And how is the battle for production and socialism won? By bringing society and the superstructure into line with the more mobile and developed productive forces by means of a revolution in social relationships. It is the productive forces, the most revolutionary aspect of society, that objectively lead society toward communism, Without revolutionizing the means of production, communism is impossible. But Sanmugathasan wants you to think that all you have to do is develop the right spirit, the right thought. He thus proposes that spirit or thought, not the productive forces, is the most revolutionary force in society. This is Utopian socialism of the Robert Owen type, not Marxism. For haven’t thinkers and religious figures for thousands of years had an idealist, naive conception of ’communism’ and attempted to realize their vision by strictly idealist means? And haven’t they failed, not out of lack of sincerity and high-mindedness, but because it is only in modern times that the productive capacity of society has produced a situation – and a leading force, the proletariat, and a leading theory, scientific socialism or Marxism – where it is really possible to build socialism and communism? But it is precisely this material, historical content of Marxism that Sanmugathasan ’extracts’ from Marxism, thus rendering it flat and banal.

It is, of course, undialectical and anti-Marxist not to give full account of the dialectical relationship and transformation of thought and activity – base and superstructure, the ideal and material world. One has an impact on and changes the other. Stalin says,

The strength and vitality of Marxism-Leninism lies in the fact that it bases its practical activity on the needs of the development of the material life of society and never divorces itself from the real life of society.

It does not follow from Marx’s words, however, that social ideas, theories, political views and political institutions are of no significance in the life of society. We have been speaking so far of the origin of social ideas, theories, views and politico! institutions, of the way they arise, of the fact that the spiritual life of society is a reflection of the conditions of its material life. As regards the significance of social ideas, theories, views and political institutions as regards their role in history, historical materialism, far from denying them, stresses the important role and significance of these factors in the life of society, in its history. (Dialectical and Historical Materialism, op cit, Problems of Leninism, p. 726)

Mao Tsetung says,

While we recognize that in the development of history as a whole it it material things that determine spiritual things and social existence that determines social consciousness, at the same time we also recognize and must recognize the reaction of spiritual things and social consciousness on social existence, and the reaction of the superstructure on the economic foundation. This is not running counter to materialism; this is precisely avoiding mechanical materialism and firmly upholding dialectical materialism. (Selected Works, vol. 2, Int. Pub, 1954, p. 41)

None of the great teachers supports a mechanistic view of the role of the productive forces. Our view is dialectical, and that is precisely why we reject the line that revolutionary thought is divorced from the concrete basis of the productive forces and productive relations which arise from them. In this regard the whole latter part of Stalin’s Dialectical and Historical Materialism is worth quoting. But let us quote Marx instead:

Social relations are closely bound up with productive forces. In acquiring new productive forces men change their mode of production; and in changing their mode of production, in changing the way of earning their living, they change all their social conditions. The hand-mill gives society the feudal lord; the steam-mill gives society the industrial capitalist.

The same men, who establish their social relationships in conformity with their material productivity, produce also principles, ideas and categories, in conformity with their social relationships.

Thus these ideas, these categories, arc as little eternal as the relationships they express. They are historical and transitory products.

There is a continual movement of growth in productive forces, of destruction in social relations, of formation in ideas; the only immutable thing is the abstraction of movement – mors immortalis. (Poverty of Philosophy)

There it is, summed up as Marx saw it, as Stalin saw it, and as Mao sees it. Fundamentally, the productive forces arc the forces that revolutionize society and its superstructure, not the other way around as Sanmugathasan would have us believe. To make this even clearer. It is not a question of which aspect (the material base or the superstructure) is principal at a given moment, the question is which is fundamental. For example, no one would deny that white chauvinism (a belief, part of the superstructure) has greatly affected the bloody history of the Negro people, that it has had a great impact on the material life of the United States. But where did white chauvinism come from? From the material system, from imperialism. The importance of ideas is as Stalin says: Revolution is impossible without the introduction of new, revolutionary ideas.

New social ideas and theories arise precisely because they are necessary to society, because it is impossible to carry out the urgent tasks of development of the material life of society without their organizing, mobilizing and transforming, action. Arising out of the new tasks set by the development of the material life of society, the new social ideas and theories force their way through, become the possession of the masses, mobilize and organize them against the moribund forces of society, and thus facilitate the overthrow of these forces which hamper the development of the material life of society, (Dialectical and Historical Materialism, op cit, p. 727)

Finally let us quote from Marx’s A Contribution to the Critique of political Economy:

It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.

At a certain stage of their development, the material forces of production in society come into conflict with the existing relations of production, or – what is but a legal expression for the same thing – with the property relations within which they had been at work before. From forms of development of the forces of production these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution. With the change of the economic foundation, the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed.

That’s what any revolution is all about, including the Cultural Revolution. In our opinion the Cultural Revolution was indeed a revolution, a revolution to bring the social relations of China into conformity with the developing productive forces and to free those productive forces for further advance and further social revolution. The struggle to accomplish these necessary tasks resulted in a seizure of state power by the broad masses on a much larger and deeper scale than the seizure of state power in 1949, the simple military victory which ended the period of ’new democracy’ and began the period of socialist construction.

How does Sanmugathasan view this seizure of power? In the abstract. He says on p. 25, “The Great proletarian Cultural Revolution in China was a revolution for capturing people’s minds. It was an attempt to uproot the old feudal and bourgeois ideology,” etc. Finally, he correctly concludes, “It was an endeavor to bring the superstructure into line with the changed socialist economic base. It would probably take centuries before its full effects would be felt.”

The Cultural Revolution did not and could not limit itself to the capture of people’s minds. This is a bourgeois approach.

And as far as the question of “bringing the superstructure into line with the changed socialist economic base” is concerned, we should understand that the most important aspect of the superstructure is the state. It is precisely in the struggle to consolidate state power that the Cultural: Revolution really meant something. Lin Piao’s speech on National Day, October 1, 1967, states,

From the capital to the border regions, from the city to the countryside, from the factory workshops to workers’ homes, everyone, from ... teenagers to old folk concerned themselves with state affairs and the strengthening and consolidation of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

To get yourself into someone’s mind doesn’t mean anything if that person keeps state power. Sanmugathasan is quite correct when he says the Cultural Revolution was for bringing the superstructure into line with the changed socialist economic base. This meant, first of all, changing the character and composition of the state. But Sanmugathasan refuses to plant himself firmly in materialism. On p. 36 he says, “The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was an attempt to see that proletarian ideology decisively triumphed inside the minds of the Chinese people.” He says nothing about the historical conditions which made it necessary to carry out the Cultural Revolution, to get rid of the capitalist-roaders, to shake off the fetters that had developed and which hampered the further development of Chinese, society. For him the thing remains a sort of big debate.

Sanmugathasan’s idealist approach to the Cultural Revolution is reflected in his approach to revisionism, and in particular modern revisionism. He talks a lot about revisionism, but does not say a single word about the material basis for revisionism. For example (p. 21), “Lenin, in his day, clearly defined revisionism as the influence of the bourgeoisie inside the working class movement.” This is of course true, but is it all? No, because Lenin also explained that this influence was brought into the proletariat via certain strata of workers – principally, the impoverished petty bourgeoisie forced to become wage workers, and the bribed workers, the labor aristocracy. As Stalin says in ’Inherent Contradictions of party Development’:

The pressure of the bourgeoisie and its ideology upon the proletariat and upon its party result in bourgeois ideas, morals, habits and moods not infrequently penetrating into the proletariat and its party through the medium of certain strata of the proletariat connected in one way or another with bourgeois society. (Marxism and Revisionism, Int. Pub, 1946, p. 49)

Why is Sanmugathasan’s failure to discuss the material basis for revisionism important? Because it is part of his attempt to turn class struggle into a debating society, a struggle of ideas, not of social classes and strata. This failure, incidentally, is one that Sanmugathasan shares with countless so-called ’lefts’ and ’communists’ in the United States. These people talk loud and long about revisionism, but never say exactly how it comes into the working class. This is because they belong to, and appeal to, one of the two strata Stalin says bring opportunism to the movement, that is, they belong to “the petty bourgeoisie and intelligentsia.” They don’t want to point the finger at themselves, so they remain silent. Charity begins at home.

But to continue. Sanmugathasan further uses the concept of revisionism in another attempt to split Mao off from Marxism-Leninism. He goes to great pains to do away with the whole concept of modern revisionism as a new process, a new counter-revolutionary stance. Speaking of-the ’great debate’ between Lenin and Bernstein, Kautsky, etc, Sanmugathasan says,

The present-day revisionists, from Khrushchov to Keuneman, have not improved on any of the theories originally put forward by Kautsky and Bernstein and brilliantly refuted by Lenin during his time. They are merely repeating the same balderdash. The only reason why they are called the modern revisionists is to distinguish them from the revisionists of Lenin’s time.

He admits that Lenin’s struggle against revisionism was a defense of the theories and teachings of Marx and Engels. But he stops there and says nothing has changed since. Look at what the Chinese comrade’s say in Long Live Leninism (1960):

As pointed out in the Declaration of the meeting of representatives of the Communist and Workers’ parties of the socialist countries held in Moscow in 1957, ’The existence of bourgeois influence is an internal source of revisionism while surrender to imperialist pressure is its external source.’ Old revisionism attempted to prove that Marxism was outmoded, while modern revisionism attempts to prove that Leninism is outmoded. The Moscow Declaration states, ’Modern revisionism seeks to smear the great teachings of Marxism-Leninism. .. ’

Furthermore, the fine pamphlet entitled ’Leninism and Modern Revisionism’ (Editorial #l, Hongqi, 1963) points out how modern revisionism attacks Lenin, and therefore differentiates itself from the old-style revisionism. Why does Sanmugathasan deny this correct distinction? To accomplish what he tries to do throughout his book – to separate Mao from Lenin and Marx; in this case he lumps Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin together as one thing, and then we have the disconnected ’brilliant thought’ of Mao Tsetung – shining completely by itself out in the middle of nowhere.

Another example of this trick is Sanmugathasan’s treatment of the Cultural Revolution as “without a doubt the greatest epoch-making event even more profound in its influence than the October Revolution.” (Italics added)

The Communist Party of China, however, has a different opinion. In ’Leninism or Social-Imperialism?’ they point out,

Applying the principles of Marxism-Leninism, Comrade Mao Tsetung creatively solved the fundamental problems of the Chinese revolution and led the Chinese people in waging the most protracted, fierce, arduous and complicated revolutionary struggles and revolutionary wars ever known in the history of the world proletarian revolution, and in winning victory In the people’s countryside, in the people’s revolution in China, this large country in the east. This is the greatest victory of the world revolution since the October Revolution. (Italics added)

The Chinese see the Chinese revolution, and the Cultural Revolution which is part of it, as a development of the October Revolution of 1917. This is absolutely correct. Sanmugathasan, on the other hand, attempts to split the Chinese revolution off from the Russian revolution and to place it in limbo, just as he attempts to split Mao off from Marxism-Leninism and to place him in limbo.

We shall give one more example of Sanmugathasan’s splittism. It involves, characteristically, a further development of his attack on Stalin. Sanmugathasan really does his thing when, on pp. 46-7, he says,

Stalin thus put the law of the unity and struggle of the opposites as the last one instead of the first one. When the philosophical circles in the USSR dealt with the three laws of dialectics or when Stalin wrote about the four features of the dialectical method, both sections were putting the law of the unity of opposites on an equal footing with the other laws instead of treating it as the basic law of materialist dialectics.

Then he goes on to show that Mao Tsetung discovered that the unity of opposites is the basic law of dialectics. Let us examine this.

I think that any examination of Stalin’s works in philosophy will show that he didn’t invent anything on the question of dialectics. He merely organized and quoted Marx, Engels, and Lenin. Sanmugathasan makes a serious mistake when he fails to give quotations and merely says what he thinks is there. In Dialectical and Historical Materialism (op cit, p. 7l5) Stalin quotes Engels as saying that dialectics “takes things and their perceptual images essentially in their inter-connection, in their concatenation, in their movement, in their rise and disappearance.” What can that be but the unity of opposites?

Further on Stalin quote? Lenin as saying, “In their proper meaning dialectics is the study of the contradictions within the very essence of things.” And more, “Development is the “struggle of opposites.” So we come down to the question that if Lenin says that “Dialectics is the study of the contradictions wiithin the very essence of things,” can this mean anything but the unity of opposites? Far from discovering that contradictions or the unity of opposites was discovered and developed by Mao Tsetung, Sanmugathasan merely shows us, against his will, that Comrade Mao Tsetung is a very good Leninist, and not at all separated from Lenin and Stalin, as he would like you to think.

Before summing up, we shall mention one more example of Sanmugathasan’s metaphysical, idealist approach to history. On p. 3 he opens his polemic against Trotsky and sums it up by saying,

Trotsky, himself, had, during the unsuccessful 1905 Russian Revolution issued the sectarian slogan, ’No Tsar, but a workers’ government,’ in opposition to Lenin’s slogan of ’A workers’ and peasants’ government’ – thereby demonstrating Trotsky’s consistent lack of faith in the peasantry.

But the point isn’t at all that Trotsky lacked faith in the peasantry. The point really is that Trotsky was a counter-revolutionary and that his sloganeering was a method and a theoretical mask used to confuse naive people who could not see the counter-revolutionary role Trotsky consistently played.


The whole purpose of Sanmugathasan’s book is to abstract Marxism-Leninism, and especially Mao Tsetung, from reality. “Lenin,” he says on p. 5, “creatively developed Marxism to the stage of Leninism.” Later he says, “Comrade Mao Tsetung creatively developed Marxism-Leninism to the stage of Mao Tsetung Thought.” As if it were a question of climbing a ladder rung by rung. All through the book history is presented as what Lenin or Mao decided to do, without any analysis whatsoever of the objective situation – the productive forces, the social struggle, the class struggle – the things that make Marxism-Leninism what it is.

Stalin and the CPC take a correct line, in opposition to Sanmugathasan. Stalin’s introduction to Foundations of Leninism is a fine example of showing how Leninism proceeded from a concrete historical situation. Stalin is correct when he says that Leninism is Marxism in the era of imperialist wars and proletarian revolutions. The CPC is correct when it says (in the Constitution of the Party) that “The CPC takes Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought as the theoretical base guiding its thinking. Mao Tsetung Thought is Marxism-Leninism in the era when imperialism is headed for total collapse, and socialism is advancing toward world-wide victory.” Not a rung on a ladder going God knows where, but Marxism is a particular period of history. The changing historical situation, and it alone, makes it possible to ’extend,’ or, more accurately, ’to creatively apply’ Marxism-Leninism. We don’t think for a moment that Mao Tsetung Thought is the end of the process. It is a creative application of the methodology of Marxism that corresponds to a definite stage of the productive forces and the resulting social struggle, not in any one country, but worldwide.

Only when Marxism-Leninism is viewed concretely, in relation to the real, material world, does it have meaning. Similarly for the great teachers, Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao. When they are abstracted from history and the class struggle they become religious ikons, harmless to the bourgeoisie.

On p. 30 of his book Sanmugathasan gives a thumbnail sketch of the background of the Cultural Revolution, and does it quite correctly. He shows how it was built up, and how it arose on the basis of the class struggle. What he fails to show, of course – and it is the obvious conclusion – is that Mao is great because Mao marches with history. Mao raised the question of the Cultural Revolution as it was raised by the Liberation Daily, which called for a rounded cultural revolution. Then the party discussed it, and then Mao initiated it. This showed that he was marching with history, with the masses. Nobody can make society do something. Society has to be already on the path of doing it, and then a leader emerges who is able to rationalize and sum up the desires and needs of the masses. That is what leadership is, and that is why Mao is such a gigantic figure in the history of mankind.

But Sanmugathasan presents a different picture, one in which god-like figures (Lenin, Mao) float about in the heavens making pronouncements and handing down decisions. Such a picture of Marxism-Leninism, of the great teachers, of revolution, can only lead to the renunciation of science, of the concrete analysis of concrete reality – the only thing that can lead the proletariat to victory and free humanity. Revolution is not a debating society or a dinner party.


[1] In fact, since this article was first drafted, some of the main advocates of Sanmagathasun have completely renounced Marxist-Leninist-Mao Tsetung Thought and have become open Trotskyites.